Updates

Articles

Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Understanding the Catastrophic Victory of the Fascists and the Long Term Consequences

 

Kunal Chattopadhyay

The Indian parliamentary elections of 2019 ended with a huge victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). What was significant was not just the huge increase in votes and seats of the BJP and the NDA, but the total shift of votes and discourse to the right. Any attempt to minimise this by mechanically referring to classical Marxist texts and quotations would be suicidal.

Before we go into left responses, though, we have to begin by looking at what happened and explain why.

A summary comparison between the 16th and the 17th Parliaments would be useful, as a starting point. In 2014, the BJP won 282 seats with about 31% of the votes, and the NDA as a whole received 38.5% votes and 336 seats. Later, some of the NDA partners left, notably the Telugu Desam Party led by N. Chandrababu Naidu, which had won 16 seats. Given India’s first past the post system, opposition parties and intellectuals had often pointed out the voting percentages.

In 2019, the BJP obtained 303 sears and the NDA as a whole 353. This involved the BJP getting 37.4% votes and the NDA as a whole claimed about 48% votes, which means practically one in two Indian voters voted BJP and its allies. The two BJP allies who got badly mauled were the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu whose seats came down from 37 in 2014 to just 1 in 2019, and the Shiromani Akali Dal in the Punjab which got 2 seats.

The main opposition bloc, the former ruling bloc for a decade from 2004 to 2014, was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Indian National Congress. In 2014 the UPA had 60 seats, while in 2019 it has 91. But the Congress seats have gone up from its worst ever performance of 44 seats to only 52, its second worst. In terms of vote share it has actually lost 0.8% compared to 2014. The main gain for the UPA has come from the DMK in Tamil Nadu. It had no seats in 2014, and has secured 23 this time, making it the third largest party in parliament.

Parties outside the two blocs have fared worse than in 2014. In 2009 such parties had 122 seats, in 2014 147, while in 2019 this came down to 98. Among those most badly hit were, on the extreme right, the Trinamul Congress, which is the ruling party in West Bengal (34 in 2014, 22 in 2019), and on the left, the CPI and the CPI(M), the two major parliamentary fragments of the original Communist Party of India.[1] The left had  11 seats in 2014 and 6 in 2019, of which the CPI and the CPI(M) together had 10 seats in 2014 and 5 in 2019. The final seat in both cases was held by the Revolutionary Socialist Party, allied to the CPI and the CPIM in West Bengal, but opposing them, and allied to the Congress in Kerala, from where it won one seat. On terms of vote share the CPI(M) shrank to 3.28% in 2014 and 1.75% in 2019, while the CPI was 0.78% in 2014 and 0.58% in 2019.

The Bahujan Samaj Party, which is the most powerful Dalit (the formerly untouchable castes who are still oppressed and marginalised despite the formal abolition of untouchability in the Indian constitution), had formed an alliance with the Samajwadi Party, the most powerful party of Other Backward Classes in the key province Uttar Pradesh. But the SP barely retained its 5 seats with a slight drop in votes, while the BSP won 10 seats, up from zero in 2014. However, it had polled over 4% votes across India in 2014, and it does not seem to have increased that.

So what were the factors that led to this rise of the BJP?

We need to make a distinction between the longer term narrative and the immediate background. The BJP, and its previous incarnation, the Jana Sangh, were electoral arms of an aggressive Hindutva nationalist political outfit, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh. It was founded in 1925 to assert Hindu dominant caste (primarily Brahmin) supremacy. By the 1930s, its leaders were in touch with Mussolini and then with Hitler, and were among the most fervent supporters of the Nazis from the time of the Krystallnacht, arguing that such should also be the future of Muslims in India. At the same time, they were loyalists in Indian politics, refusing to take part in the freedom struggle, while explaining to their cadres that the real fight would be the one between Hindus and Muslims, not between the British colonial rulers and the Indian people.

The murder of Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, who had formally resigned his RSS membership before the murder , resulted in a ban on the RSS. It finally came out of the ban by promising not to take part in politics, a promise it interpreted simply to mean that the RSS would not contest elections. Hence the electoral arms like Jan Sangh. A strategy of long term penetration in civil society by building up a wide range of institutions followed. They included schools, where through philosophy, history, and literature, Hindutva (political Hindu nationalism) was glorified. They also included specific organisations targeting different segments of the population, including Dalits and other subordinate castes.

The 1970s saw a change in the fortunes of the Hindutva right, as mainstream bourgeois and socialist/Stalinist left all displayed some degree of willingness to collaborate with them in order to defeat the congress, led by Mrs. Indira Gandhi. In the 1977 elections she did lose. But much of the cadre base was provided by the RSS in the fight against her. As a result , the united opposition that fought the Congress (I) during the elections of 1977 enabled them to get a considerable number of their members elected to parliament, and for the new government to carry out quite a bit of the RSS agenda.

By the late 1980s, the Congress, the traditional party of the Indian capitalist class, was facing a crisis. 1984 was the last time the Congress won a majority in parliament on its own, and it did so by a shift to Hindu communalism, with Sikhs as the target. Again, there was an attempt by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to create a balance of communalisms, including opening up a dormant  communal tension over a mosque in Ayodhya, supposedly built by destroying a temple back in the 1520s.

The elections of 1989 and 1991 saw new issues coming to the forefornt. The BJP, founded in 1980, initially attempted to present a more moderate face than the erstwhile Jan Sangh, talking about “Gandhian Socialism”. But it won only two seats in the parliament of 1984, and decided to shift to more aggressive Hindutva thereafter. Meanwhile, a dissident Congress minister, Viswanath Pratap Singh, pushed for the recognition of oppressed castes and social groups (collectively Other Backward Classes) who had never been “untouchables” but who were part of the socially marginalised. Aware that this posed a threat to its strategy of Hindu consolidation, the BJP, which had supported Singh during the 1989 elections and had propped him up in his coalition government, went for a very aggressive campaign to destroy the Babri Masjid and build a so called Ram temple there.

Three issues would dominate thereafter – Indian capitalism and its march to globalisation, and the rival discursive strategies of Hindu nationalism versus Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi-Muslim alliance building. The shift from a welfare state model to the neoliberal economy however took place initially under the Congress. The BJP was far from being the first choice of the ruling class during the 1990s. However, the weakening of the Congress led to a change in ruling class attitude as well. The various attempts at building “third fronts”, whether sponsored by the left or not, saw regional parties, concerned with local voter bases, making demands that often went against the core demands of the bourgeoisie. And anytime the parliamentary left was a partner, for all its limitations, it insisted on reforms that would provide (within capitalism, certainly) some benefits to its core constituencies. As a result, while the 199-2004 Vajpayee government was formed initially without any huge bourgeois support, the performance of that government changed the attitude of the ruling class. From 2004, the BJP has increasingly become the preferred party of the bourgeoisie. This also has links with the specific problems faced by Indian capitalism.

Globalisation, Indian Capitalism and the BJP:

Indian capitalism has developed an aggressive appetite. The Global Wealth Report 2018 published by the Credit Suisse, an investment bank, says India now has 343,000 persons owning over one million US dollars, or about 7 crores of Indian rupees, worth of wealth. According to the World Inequality Database, the income of the top 1% of the Indian population was Rs 33 lakh per adult or Rs 275,000 per month (just under US$ 4000). Mukesh Ambani’s wealth is currently put at 53200 million US$, Ratan Tata’s wealth is seemingly much less, but that is because much of it is concealed as company property which he fully controls. But the Tata group has under his stewardship acted aggressively to take over Tetley (by Tata Tea), Jaguar Land Rover (by Tata Motors) and Corus (by Tata Steel). However, Indian capitalism has been forced to compete with much more powerful US, European and Japanese capitalism, and recently with Chinese capital, from a weaker base. As a result, and lacking any historic colony, Indian capitalism has the need to impose super-exploitation on the Indian working class. This includes a huge burden on the adivasis (including evicting them from forests where they have dwelt, compelling them to work for abysmally low wages, etc) as well as destroying the organised working class altogether.

This is where the Congress has been unable to deliver the goods. The privatization of the finance sectors have been slowed down due to massive struggles by finance sector employees. The very existence of some of the older labour laws, however much they are flouted, create benchmarks against which workers can raise their demands. And this was something that became clear in 2004-2009, during the UPA-I government, when the left had 61 MPs, and Congress had to rely on the support of those MPs. Some reforms which from above appear very insignificant actually provided quite a bit of bargaining power to the rural poor. These included the MNREGA, which provided that one person per poor family would get 199 days guaranteed work per year.

The Gujarat Model of Narendra Modi consisted of ignoring labour laws, ignoring environment protection (since that increases the cost for the individual capitalist), and promoting big capital.[2] In 2002, after the Gujarat carnage, sections of the Indian capitalist class, members of the Confederation of Indian Industries,  had criticised the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Led by diamond merchant and businessman Gautam Adani, a group formed an alternative body, Resurgent Group of Gujarat, and even threatened to leave CII.

Adani pledged a sum of Rs 15,000  crore for the first Vibrant Gujarat summit (held in September-October 2003). Thereafter, Adani was one of the principal lobbyists for Modi consistently, including outside India. Other capitalists began to see the value of the Modi/Gujarat model. Unlike in the case of previous BJP leaders, the Modi for Prime Minister campaign was launched at Vibrant Gujarat summits, with prominent Indian capitalists sounding the tocsin.

The Modi government started repaying their friends. When it became a Modi government at the all India level, this repayment was even more fulsome. The BJP had a few campaign planks in 2014, one of which was its opposition to corruption. But from Anna Hazare down, all the “anti-corruption” crusaders who had targeted the Congress, remained silent as India’s big capital, and to a certain extent certain major international capitalist concerns including Monsanto, made huge inroads.

But it was not simply a matter of corrupt practices (the so-called crony capitalism). It was a matter of systematic inroads on the workers and poor peasants’ livelihoods for the profit of big capital. However, there were roadblocks. The Indian working class is much weaker now than it had been three decades back. Nevertheless, the call for changing the labour laws, the speeding up of the privatization of Public Sector Undertakings, got slowed down primarily because of labour resistance. While only about 5-7 per cent of the working class is organised by now, the twenty-first century did see attempts, including by some of the bureaucratic Central Trade Unions, to mobilise not just their immediate members but others as well. General strikes across India, and regular struggles in the financial sectors, meant that the plans could not always proceed.[3]

 

The ideological mobilisations:

But in 2004, Vajpayee had stumbled here. He too had sought, as BJP leader, to serve big capital. But the India Shining campaign had resulted in huge popular rejection. That was also the last occasion when, as we saw, the left votes had gone up along with seats. Though that was a matter of 59 seats of the four LF parties ( CPIM 5.66%, 43 seats, CPI 1.41%, 10 seats, RSP – 0.43%, 3 seats, All India Forward Bloc – 0.35%, 3 seats) along with 2 more by their allies , this was an indication that the masses of people were willing to vote for alternatives if these were posed before them.  Also, the BSP had won 19 seats (5.33%), the SP 36 seats (4.32%), and in Bihar the Rashtriya Janata Dal (the SPs rough equivalent in Bihar) had won 24 seats (2.41%). In 2009 too the UPA had trounced the NDA. But this was followed by the old guard of the BJP being pushed aside, and a firm, aggressive new leadership taking over. Between 2014 and 2019, this leadership consolidated itself.

The Hindu nationalist rhetoric was modified, because it was clear that merely pushing for Hindu unity was not paying adequate dividend. At the same time, a series of policy measures by the government had created popular anger. This was eventually translated into votes in several state assembly elections in 2018. In May, the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress tied up after the elections to form a JD(S) led government. The BJP tried to spend huge sums of money to buy up several MLAs but was foiled. In November-December, there were elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, and Telangana. The Congress lost Mizoram to the Mizo National Front, but gained Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh from the BJP. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi swept Telangana, defeating both BJP and Congress.

The BJP showed that it was prepared for these setbacks. While this also calls for a discussion of the errors and flaws of its opposition, we need to understand that right from 2014, the BJP had taken up a multi-pronged strategy. One was a shift from merely Hindu nationalism to a full-fledged appropriation of Indian nationalism in its ugliest form. The distinction lies in the past of the RSS. The RSS does not have, as we saw, the freedom struggle in its genes. So it has in the past stressed that it is fighting for the real rights of Hindus. But this time, Kashmir, Pakistan, these became important buzz words. In place of previous governments with their attempts at some degree of carrot and stick policies in Kashmir, under Modi there was simply a big stick with no attempt at either carrot or talking softly. From a very early stage, Modi projected himself as a strong man. Kashmir was a key component of this chest thumping nationalism. Violence in Kashmir was firmly justified. This was the way in which the Sangh worked itself into nationalism. Violence in Kashmir is not new. Between 1990 and 2017 about 41,000 persons have died due to the conflicts. They include 14000 civilians and 22,000 real or alleged militants. However, there was clearly an upward graph from 2014. And this has resulted, with the Pulwama incident, in the emergence of purely home-grown cases of militants, even though Pakistan had to be blamed for political (primarily electoral) reasons.

National security trumps civil liberties –this was the message. The failure of the RSS student wing, the ABVP, to win the JNU Students Union election, led to aggressive nationalism and fake propaganda, which however was dramatically effective. The JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar (a member of the CPI dominated AISF), along with students belonging to other left organisations, such as Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, were accused of having raised anti India slogans at a meeting  which was held over the commemoration of the hanging of Afzal Guru. Guru was a Kashmiri who was hanged in a case that will remain one of the worst cases of legal violence, with ample evidence that he was framed by the police. Many lawyers, civil rights activists have protested his conviction and hanging. Kumar and others were charged with having shouted anti India slogans. They were arrested, Kanhaiya Kumar was assaulted in front of the Patiala House  Court.  While no legal case could stand, the bulk of the electronic and print media were used, with shouting brigade leaders like Arnab  Goswami (then Times Now, currently Republic TV) leading the pack. The aim was manifold. First, Kashmir was made into a seat of evil. Modi was shown as the first muscular leader tackling Kashmir the way it should be, namely by massive and unrelenting violence. Second, leftists of all shades were depicted as “anti-national” for talking about civil rights in Kashmir. Of course their utterances were distorted so that they, including someone like Kanhaiya Kumar, belonging to the CPI (all moderate left parties take the position that Kashmir is an integral part of India, and differ only over how to conduct control there), was supposed to have advocated Kashmir’s right to self-determination to the point of secession. Third, as these were JNU students, and much of the left and liberal intellectuals of Delhi, and because it was a Delhi based incident, intellectuals and students all over India stood by them, it was argued that liberal intellectuals by definition were suspect, with a tendency to become anti nationals.


The focus on national security and nationalism was successful. The elections of 2004, 2009 and 2014 were all fought on primarily economic issues. In 2004 BJP went into the polls claiming India was shining. It had a fully articulated aggressive neoliberal policy, while the Congress, the original party that had ushered in neoliberalism in India, was talking about social security. The left won its highest ever number of seats. In 2009, the UPA-II government was formed because UPA successfully defended its economic record, including the MNREGA. In 2014 Modi and the BJP focused on corruption, economic failures. Hindutva was worked in, but with a distinct economic tinge in areas like West Bengal and Assam, where “infiltration” by Muslims was linked to outsiders (real or alleged immigrants) taking away jobs from locals. In 2019 by contrast, the economy was in a mess. So much so that the government of India stopped data from being published. As we write this the Government, now securely in place for five years, has acknowledged that the growth rate had plummeted to 5.8% and that India’s unemployment rate hit a 45 year high in 2017-18. But the success of the BJP lay in its ability to move the entire campaign away from the economy. The Congress did try raise issues relating to the economy as well as corruption (the Rafale deal), as did other parties. But the BJP stayed firmly on course for an ideology driven campaign that stressed national security, a strong leadership, and anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Nor was this last something invented only after Pulwama and the Balakot strike. This chest thumping belligerent nationalism was ratcheted up immediately after the 2014 victory and stayed the entire course. And no party, not even the left, was in a position to take this on adequately (in most cases not at all).

 

Ideology, Institutional Subversion, Force:

There is a need to understand the different dimensions that were integrated in this success. The ideological triumph, while backed by force and fraud, cannot be discounted. The RSS-BJP has succeeded in becoming the hegemonic voice across much of India, spreading beyond the North and the West to Eastern India and to parts of the south. It has used local issues, but woven them into its core outlook.

Three decades of neoliberalism have shown that there is no trickle down. Wealth accumulates at the top, and simply stays there. This has created frustration. There is a tremendous  sense of anger, insecurity and frustration among the youth, many of whom were the first time voters in the elections of 2019. The BJP government's policies over the last five years certainly contributed strongly to their economic crisis. Yet, a disproportionately high fraction of them appear to have voted for the BJP. No mechanical understanding can explain this. For this, it is necessary to look at how their imagination has been captured, how their anger has been shifted in certain directions by astute politics.

This involves taking on and defeating the challenges from left and subaltern politics. Electorally, one of the challenges mounted from the 1980s, and especially in the 1990s, was the attempt to create political identities called Dalit politics and OBC politics. While caste oppression is a living social reality in India, specific caste groups or jatis are linked to particular occupations. The change from pre-capitalism to capitalism has partially transformed that. That has also given the opportunity of cobbling together a discursive alternative based on shared experiences of oppression, humiliation and the desire to fight back and gain social identity and pride. B.R. Ambedkar started this process, but it was in independent India, with the adult suffrage, that a serious attempt was made to build table, cohesive political projects around this.

The Dalit assertion for greater dignity, and recognition as equal humans, as well as the struggle for material benefits, came up against the recognition that without political power these were not going to be possible. The Dalits, their aspiring political leaders and intellectuals, saw the left as non-serious about them at best, because of the repeated arguments that when all the exploited improved their social conditions Dalits would find themselves in a better situation. This seemed at best a failure to recognise the special oppression they faced, and at worst a reassertion of upper caste (in recent parlance, savarna) domination in the name of class leadership. So there was an attempt to build Dalit parties within bourgeois politics, the most successful being the Bahujan Samaj Party of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. Historically Dalits were the “outcastes”. The “shudras” were people who came to occupy places a little above Dalits but were also oppressed. This essay cannot trace fully the class-caste interfaces and linkages. However, a large part of them were the ones who came to be identified as the Other Backward Classes. Here too, social engineering and a political project based on that went together. But that political project fragmented into state level entities, like the Samajwadi Party in UP, the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, etc.

These were however political processes based on discursive identity politics. There was no easy road to unity based on the argument that Dalit-Bahujans constitute the majority and are oppressed. Both parts of the statement are true, but they could not easily be turned into lasting political vehicles. Apart from the interests of the elite, and certainly Brahminism is a component of the elite in India, this political process required a material basis that did not necessarily emerge. Thus, in UP, the core area of the BSP, the Jatavs formed its most enthusiastic supporters, and got disproportionate support and patronage from it, so that it has been argued by analysts that other Dalit castes have not remained as strongly loyal to the BSP as in the past. Equally, the RJD and the SP were backing mainly the most powerful OBC group, the Yadavs. In Bihar this led to the split between RJD leader Laloo Prasad Yadav and the Kurmi leader Nitish Kumar.  The BJP has taken note of these processes and has encouraged the formation of small parties based on one or two smaller but significant castes, or forged alliances when such parties existed, in order to ensure that the project of a Dalit unity or OBC unity does not materialise.  Hindutva, allegedly very catholic and capable of embracing diversity, was pushed as the key to how these different castes could all be accommodated. At the same time, the BJP has shown greater flexibility in recent times. It has moved to acceptance of reservations while diluting them ( e.g., through the so-called economic  reservation) It has absorbed gods and goddesses traditionally worshipped by people outside the elite brahminical hierarchy, while ultimately ensuring that the cooption is on the terms of the Sangh. And through sustained scapegoating of Muslims, it has actually managed to make Dalits in many parts of India hostile to the Muslims, so that even real brahminical oppression has not led to Dalits siding with Muslims. One of the ugliest cases in the past was of course the successful mobilization of oppressed castes against the Muslims during the 2002 pogroms in Gujarat.

The scapegoating of Muslims has been done systematically, and taking into account local issues. Thus, in Bengal it is “infiltration”. In Assam it is linked to an older anti Bengali sentiment. So while it has variations, there has been generated a massive fear, hatred and anger against the Muslims within a considerable part of the Hindus. While leftists have often pointed out rationally that the Sachar Committee Report and other documents show that the majority of Muslims are actually socially and economically in a worse position than for example Dalits, the BJP-RSS way of handling popular religiosity and promoting the hatred against Muslims rides over such rational arguments.

At the same time, there have been massive institutional shifts. This needs to be understood to recognise the nature of the BJP victory. The BJP had sustained support from most newspapers and TV channels. This is not surprising. It is sometimes said by well-intentioned but totally erroneous commentators that the media has been purchased, the journalists have been purchased. The reality is simple. Most newspapers and television channels are owned by capitalists who are part of the hegemonic bloc that sees the BJP as the sole stabilizing force. So journalists are instructed to take pro BJP lines. The social media was also dominated by the BJP. There were large numbers of paid social media operators sending out messages, cartoons, memes, fake news to vast numbers of citizens. There was the tapping of the UID (Aadhaar) data and its use. There were the shifts in the Supreme Court and the Election Commission. There is no need to accept conspiracy theories like the EC creating EVMs where whatever button is pressed the BJP would get the votes. The EC did other things which were quite visible. This began with the EC waiting till Modi’s all India tour of inaugurating various projects was over before it announced the election dates. This continued with the EC giving clean chits to Modi’s numerous violations of the Poll code.

From the point of view of funding for the elections, this time there was simply no comparison. The BJP had about fifty times the funds all others had. It was like a super heavyweight fighting with a number of bantam weight boxers, and the media gleefully attacking the bantamweights for not being able to go the entire distance.

To this we need to add the matter of force and fraud. A vast number of Muslims and Dalits found their names deleted from the electoral rolls and therefore could not vote. During the election campaign there was massive show of force and threats. Thus, Muslims in many UP seats were subjected to threats of various kinds, like Maneka Gandhi, the BJP candidate from Sultanpur, openly threatening Muslim voters that if they did not vote for her, after the elections she would not help them. This is not an empty threat, because the EC’s use of EVMs mean that its Form 20 data, released after the polls, allows everyone to check how each booth, or each EVM, voted. This breakdown practically nullifies the secrecy of the vote.

The Opposition and the Strategy of the Congress:

The possibility of defeating the BJP rested on forming a wide block of parties. Any such alliance would have been a bourgeois alliance, and there is no question of our supporting it. But an objective analysis would show that whereas in the first half of 2018 the Indian National Congress was keen on moving to some sort of alliance of that type, the victories it got in a few state assemblies changed its outlook.

In UP the major alliance was the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance, which tried accommodating others. But the Congress made huge demands. For the SP-BSP alliance to accommodate a very weak Congress any further than they did (they did not put up candidates in the seats contested by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi), the Congress had to respond in places it was stronger (Madhya Pradesh, Punjab etc), which it simply did not. The Aam Aadmi Party, which controls the Delhi government, tried negotiations about the Delhi seats but the negotiations fell through. The Left front in West Bengal all but begged the Congress for at least a seat adjustment if not an alliance, but there too it was the Congress that showed disdain.

It was clear that the Congress was more interested in putting itself forward as the only legitimate alternative to the BJP than with winning elections and putting together a coalition government. Its pitch was successful among liberal and soft left intellectuals of certain types, who were urging votes for the Congress. One key element in the liberal arguments for the Congress was that all other parties had at certain times allied with the BJP and given it legitimacy (including the Left front), while the Congress had not. Of course – since the Congress was usually the party against which such alliances had been put together in the first place. Moreover, the Congress took a soft Hindutva policy over a series of issues. In Kerala, where the contest was primarily between the CPI(M) led Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic front, there was a Supreme Court verdict that stopped the regressive practice of not permitting women who were of roughly the age when women would menstruate into a temple known as the Sabarimala temple. In order to win the Hindu conservative vote, it was the Congress which aggressively mobilized people, basically demanding that the provincial government should not help any woman trying to enter the temple. Certainly, in Kerala the UDF won 19 out of 20 seats, though not only for that reason. Finally, of course, if we look at the economic policies that the Indian capitalist class, or at least its dominant sections, want, it was the Congress that started pushing for them from the end of the 1980s and particularly in the 1990s onwards.

Why the Congress wanted this seemingly suicidal policy of going alone and ensuring its defeat has to do with its alliance experiences and a strategy it seems to have developed. Alliances, whether with the Left in 2004-2009, or even with regional parties (2004-2014) compel the Congress to give too much ground on core issues of interest to the Indian capitalists and international capitalism. So the Congress strategy, on looking back over what it did since November 2018, was to appear progressive, as the left of centre alternative to the BJP (a fake appearance) while concentrating on the collapse of regional and left parties. Just one example will clarify this. It was the left that was primarily responsible for the big kisan marches  In Mumbai and Delhi. The Congress picked up the rhetoric. But after the November victories, the Congress did not hike the crop procurement prices in the provinces where it won, contrary to its pre-election promises. As a result, when the Congress made an electoral promise to give Rs 72,000 annually to 20% families in poorest of the poor category, benefiting around 25 crore people (the NYAY scheme) in  Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, it made evidently zero impact. The BJP swept those provinces, bouncing back from its defeat just six months back.

The Disaster of the Left:

For Marxists, discussing the rise of an ultra-right force, the key questions are, what is going to be the line of march in the coming period, and how do we fight it? To answer these questions however, we have to begin with examining the extent of the disaster of the left.[4]

The mainstream left, as it is often called, consists of four main parties – the Communist Party of India, the CPI(M), the Revolutionary Socialist Party, and the All India Forward Bloc. The CPI and the CPI(M) belong to the same current, and the historic reasons for the split are long over. The CPI has repeatedly called or a unification of the two parties. The CPI(M) has in the past rejected the appeal with arrogance, arguing that as it is a bigger party, the CPI should enter it instead. This is something that would also enable the CPI(M) to argue that it remain the “correct” legatee of the undivided CPI, even though in fact today the CPI(M) no less than the CPI is a fervent campaigner for an alliance with the Congress.

What is far more important is the experience of being in government and how it has transformed the mainstream left. The CPI and the CPI(M), emerging from the Stalinised milieu, had not been revolutionary parties at any time in independent India. But they did have militancy, and a degree of focus on extra-parliamentary mass action. Even the toppling of the Namboodiripad government of Kerala in 1959, and the toppling of the United Front governments of 1967 and 1969, did not mean a total rupture with that outlook. But between 1977 and 2011, the Left front was continuously ruling West Bengal at the provincial level, and it also had a long stint I Kerala, alternating with the Congress led alliance. In the small state of Tripura it ruled for a quarter century. These experiences, and above all the West Bengal experience, transformed the CPI(M), not only in West Bengal, but across India. CPI(M) cadres in West Bengal did not take part in any real mass movements since 1977, because only when the government had decided what to concede were fake controlled movements launched. This had an impact at the all India level too. While the left parties and their mass fronts continue to be important (the CITU and the AITUC among trade unions, the AIDWA and the NFIW among women’s organisations, the two Kisan Sabhas, etc), movements have become peculiar. Thus is most clear when we look at the working class. There has been unremitting assaultsin the name of globalisation and reforms since 1991. The left trade unions have responded by periodic general strikes. The massive support these general strikes have evoked show that there is huge popular anger at the government and ruling class policies. Since 1991 there have been 17 general strikes. Yet the grass root work of rebuilding unions, organising the contract workers, launching struggles or deepening existing struggles, these have been seldom done, either in the provinces where the Left ruled in the past, or elsewhere.

Instead, the central thrust became the question of the popular front, adapted to India. The popular front is the Dimitrov version of the United Front, which is not an attempt to unite the working class, and behind it the other oppressed, but an alliance between workers’ parties and so-called democratic or anti-imperialist bourgeois parties. Its Indian version, originally worked out by two British Stalinists, R. Palme Dutt and Ben Bradley, continues to be the dominant ideological guide for the CPI and the CPI(M).  Finding bourgeois allies and contesting elections with them remains their key task.

These two dimensions – the transformation of the mass struggles and the crass electoral line have resulted in a deep transformation of their cadres. The fact that the Left Front in power was capable of distributing patronage, and that its very high votes represented that, not just its ideological strength, was ignored. So the decline in its vote shares from 2009 was not properly understood by its own cadres or even leaders in West Bengal. Once it was out of power, and unable to provide patronage, that mode of securing votes was gone. The Trinamul Congress saw to it that even when left leaders were MPs or when the left won municipalities etc, their funds could not be spent or they would not even get funds. A major example is the case of Siliguri. A Left Front-Congress bloc managed to get the majority and Ashok Bhattacharya of the CPI(M) became Mayor of the municipal corporation. The corporation has not been getting funds, and all road development and other work, along with patronage, in Siliguri, has been done through a bureaucratic agency created by the state government. 

To top it, there was the massive violence on the left, unleashed during the last panchayat (rural local self-government bodies) elections in West Bengal. Conducted by the state election commission with the state police ‘ensuring’ law and order, it saw  total mayhem by the TMC. And when that happened, while in some areas the BJP-RSS cadres stood up to resist, even at the cost of being beaten up, the Left leadership simply abdicated. Large numbers of left local supporters, candidates or would be candidates, were beaten up, forced to leave their villages for months, while the leaders confined themselves to statements, dharnas (sit down protests) in front of the state election commission office, etc. This made a large part of the electorate feel that the left was not serious about resisting the TMC and the violence it had unleashed. Meanwhile, as the BJP has never ruled in West Bengal, they did have illusions about the BJP as the alternative force that might resist the violence of the TMC.

In West Bengal, the TMC and the BJP succeeded in achieving a communal polarisation. It has been argued that the Left votes were transferred to the BJP (seemingly plausible because the decline of Left votes and the rise of BJP votes between 2016 and 2019 seem to match). In fact the case is more nuanced. Muslims earlier voting left have often switched to the TMC, as have Muslims voting Congress. Congress won in two seats in West Bengal, but it also saw a decline in its vote share. Many Hindus who had previously voted left voted the BJP this time. But while there have been cases where local CPI(M) leaders have been shown as urging people to vote BJP this is not a systematic case. Those accusing the left of doing so are firstly suffering from the same illusion that the left leaders themselves were  -- namely that these voters were inert people whose votes the left could transfer wherever they wanted at will. They are anything but that. Secondly, the left lost its deposits in 39 out of the 40 seats it contested in West Bengal. It is ridiculous to argue that there was a set up and a conscious transfer of votes. A covert alliance, or a tacit understanding, between the BJP and the left, would have had to involve the left also getting BJP votes switched in a couple of cases at the least. Finally, had the left not fought with whatever its real and not inflated cadre strength was, there would ha e been around 8 more seats where the anti-TMC vote would have gone to secure seats for the BJP.

One of the charges that have been levelled against the left, from post modernist intellectuals as well as people claiming to be on the radical left, is that the left parties were bhadralok parties, or parties of the upper caste elites, while it was the TMC led by Mamata Banerjee that represents the subaltern. We cannot discuss this at length here. But even if we look at the elections of 2019, something emerges clearly. In Kolkata, the seat that above all represents the bastion of the bhadralok is Kolkata South. From 1971 to the present, the CPI(M) has won this seat only twice (1980, 1989), while from  1991 to 2011 it was represented by Mamata Banerjee. It was not a subaltern (defined in caste terms) backlash that resulted in the collapse of the left, but its failure to be even a good reformist left (i.e., ensure that extra-parliamentary struggles continue).

What to expect and how to resist?:

The BJP government in the first few days has given clear indications of what we should expect. In brief, it will seek to retain its position as the preferred party of the Indian big bourgeoisie. This means an aggressive attempt  to reform labour laws in favour of capital.[5] The draft for a new labour code will now be pushed rapidly, depending on the degree of resistance that can be generated.

In foreign policy, the pro US thrust will be retained, along with something that is distinct to the BJP, namely its extreme closeness to Israel. The anti-Muslim internal ideological politics will be supplemented by anti-Pakistan rhetorics. One especially significant aspect of this is to remember that Balakot was the first case of two nuclear armed states coming into direct military confrontation of the order where one country sends in its air force so deep into another. Much has been written in the Indian media and social media about how many actually died etc. Much more significant is the fact that this happened, and may embolden the BJP to try it again, with aggressive retaliation by Pakistan at some point.

In 2014-1019, the Modi government had already started a process of controlling all segments of the state apparatus. Institutions that previously had some autonomy by law have been gradually brought under control of the Prime Minister’s Office. This is likely to deepen.

This means that under a formal retention of “democracy” there will be a steady erosion of all democratic content. The institutional subversions will be backed by the deepening of communalism so that all non-Hindus are relegated to the status of second class citizens. Within a couple of years, it will be likely that the NDA will also have a clear majority in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha). The constitutional changes that the RSS has been pushing for can then be pushed through, making India formally a Hindu Rashtra. We are not predicting that these will all happen, but these will certainly be attempted, and only mass resistance can stop them.

We can expect greater state violence in Kashmir and the attempts to scrap Articles 370 and 35A. There will also be efforts to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill making it an Act, so that Muslims coming from Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Afghanistan are denied asylum or residency while non-Muslim migrants will find it easier to get naturalization and the right to stay permanently. Muslims across India may be forced to show their officially prescribed documentation or lose citizenship status. This will not only mean they lose their votes, but that they are likely to lose a whole series of basic rights as humans. Muslims are being clearly warned, that if they want to live in the new India they must accept ghettoization, they must not object to the RSS, they must not raise their heads and protest. Here too, what has happened to Muslims in Gujarat since the 2002 pogroms is a template for what will be attempted elsewhere.

The RSS has always had a deep interest in ideological control. This will now involve greater control over education and the media. Curriculum changes are already in the offing. Funding is being linked to loyalty, as well as to a competitive strategy that means that only a handful of institutions will be really high grade, while the rest will be far more easily amenable to control. The appointment of loyalists to key positions will be another way in which this control will be increased.

Finally, the last five years have also shown that there will be both state sponsored force – the wide use of laws like UAPA, etc, to arrest anyone who protests, the attack on NGOs who talk about issues like environment, health and safety, organic farming, farmers rights, etc.

The three major responses within left organisations and parties to all this are flawed. For the Maoists, the elections do not matter much. Certain Maoist inclined activists have even displayed greater happiness at the collapse of the reformist left than alarm at the growth of the BJP. But their strategy of a protracted Peoples’ War is at a dead-end. The focus on forests and extraction from there, along with the appointment of Amit Shah as Home Minister, presages a far more violent war in the core areas of Maoist influence. Unless there is a radical transformation of their outlook, doctrine, and tactics (which essentially means unless they stop being Maoists) there seems no prospect for serious widening of resistance by them.

For the mainstream left it is business as usual. Where even Rahul Gandhi of the Congress tendered his resignation after his party’s failure to gain many more seats, the left leaders, hiding under the cover of collective responsibility, actually do not acknowledge responsibility for the disaster to the left. Rebuilding the old left, with a few poultices here and there, one or two face lift operations, will not gain them anything. This is clearly seen by the fact that the CPI(M) daily in Kolkata has been printing news and op-ed articles that do not address this central issue, the devastating blow suffered by the left.

For many activists, the desire will be to say, we must focus on social movements. But unless all such fragments are brought into a coherent and focused politics, these efforts will all be targeted by the Congress and its liberal intellectual supporters each election time in the name of a rainbow coalition.

What we need to understand is that unlike in many other countries where also there has been a rise of radical right or fascistic forces, in India the opposition is divided, including the popular opposition. The struggle against Hindutva, with the RSS having some 36 organisations and over 800 NGOs working within all sectors of civil society, and having an existence of nearly a century, is different from a struggle against say, Bolsonaro. To damage the hegemony of the RSS-BJP calls for struggles beyond the electoral struggles.

This can however be done only by the building of a new, radical left. The forces for them will have to come from the existing far left, from the sections of the reformist left willing to challenge their leaderships and the drift to the right, the social movement oriented left activists, in particular caste activists. A separate discussion is needed to look further at why the Amedkarite movement in its various forms does not provide a full answer. But one key point is, as long as Dalit parties and leaderships try to fight for upward mobility within the caste system rather than its radical overthrow, they cannot get out of the ultimate trap of Hindutva. Also, as we saw, the political project of Dalit unity has often foundered on ambitions of particular Dalit castes. But a revitalized left has to be a left that takes caste oppression seriously.

Any such new radical left has to therefore reject the politics of Stalinism and Maoism, without going to a rejection of building revolutionary parties altogether. In this struggle, Radical Socialist will lay its role, reaching out to organisations and activists for collaboration and unity. Overcoming fragmentation is the call of the day in today’s India.



[1] The CPI was founded in Tashkent by M. N. Roy in 1920, and in India in 1925. It was to be deeply influenced by Stalinism in both the ultraleft sectarian and the popular frontist ways. It split in 1964 between the CPI and the CPI (Marxist). In 1967-69, Maoists came out of the CPI(M) and in 1969 majority of them founded the CPI (Marxist-Leninist). Followers of S.A. Dange left the CPI after he was expelled in 1981, and set up the All India Communist Party, later merging with other similar forces to create the United Communist Party of India. The CPI(ML) fragmented after 1972. At present there are many Maoist or partially Maoist parties and groups. The most important party sticking to the original Maoist line is the CPI(Maoist), a party created by the unification of the CP(ML) Peoples War Group, the CPI(ML) Party Unity, and the Maoist Communist Centre. The most important CPI(ML) fragment taking part in elections is the CPI(ML) Liberation, which was at one time in a kind of loose alliance with the DSP Australia. Following the results the CPI has renewed its call for a CPI(CPI(M) unity, which the CPI(M) has once again turned down.

[2] See Rohit Prajapati and Trupti Shah – Laboratory of Fascism: Capital, Labour and Environment in Modi’s Gujarat,  http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/579-laboratory-of-fascism-capital-labour-and-environment-in-modi-s-gujarat

[3] See Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik, India On Strike, http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/786-india-on-strike

 

[4] For past assessments of the trajectory of the left see Soma Marik and Kunal Chattopadhyay, The Defeat of the Left front and the Search for Alternative Leftism, http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/614-the-defeat-of-the-left-front-and-the-search-for-alternative-leftism; Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik, The Left Front and the United Progressive Alliance (2004), http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/62-the-left-front-and-the-united-progressive-alliance-2004; Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik, Elections and the Left in India, International Socialist Review, Issue 66, https://isreview.org/issue/66/elections-and-left-india ..

[5] Labour law reforms have been discussed from our perspective in Labour Law Reforms, Indian Capitalism and the Modi Government, in http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/739-labour-law-reforms-indian-capitalism-and-the-modi-government

Videos on the movement of Tiananmen Square, and on LIU Xiabo


Documents broadcast on ARTE

Tuesday, June 4, 2019, by AUBRY Émilie , Pierre HASKI , LEGRAS Gaël , MAC MILLAN Ian

 Tiananmen: the people against the party

Thirty years ago, Chinese students rose up to demand democracy and were victims of bloody repression. Nourished by the "Tiananmen Papers", a captivating dive into the heart of the events of the spring of 1989. 
On April 15, 1989, Hu Yaobang, former secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party, who was dismissed two years earlier, following the student protests of 1986, he had supported in their democratic demands, dies of a heart attack.
Wanting to pay tribute to him, thousands of students converge on Tian'anmen, the largest square in the world, symbol of communist power, confronted, for a decade, the wind of freedom that blows over China and weakens the dictatorship of the single party . The slogans claim the freedom of expression and the transparency of the government.

First installment 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hLCozo3p3I

This first episode traces the beginning of the biggest movement for the democratization of China's history and the showdown between some 200,000 demonstrators - soon supported by the workers, Pekingese and big cities - and the government led with an iron fist by Deng Xiaoping, party secretary-general Zhao Ziyang and prime minister Li Peng. 
On May 20, after a masquerade of dialogue with student leaders, martial law is proclaimed.

Handful archive footage How, thirty years ago, the Chinese Communist Party came to commit a mass crime whose exact number of victims is still unknown?

Twelve years after the events in 2001, the leak of thousands of secret documents retracing the internal struggles of Chinese power, the "Tiananmen Papers", revealed the chain of events. Based on these exceptional documents, the film retains the thread of the days from April to June 1989 thanks to poignant archival images commented by specialists from China and by the former leaders of the movement themselves, for the majority in exile. 
The ghosts of the "Beijing Spring" continue to haunt them, while a totalitarian regime still governs the country.

Documentary by Ian MacMillan (France / United States, 2019, 52mn)

Second installment: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXcrXHs7p-0

on May 20, martial law is proclaimed. Two hundred thousand soldiers penetrate to Beijing ... 
Two hundred thousand soldiers penetrate in the capital, but are quickly stopped by Pekingese who fraternize with them. 
At the same time, dissension arises among the students, between the advocates of non-violence and the most radical. On May 27, Wang Dan, one of the leaders, sensing the imminence of the drama, unsuccessfully urges his comrades to evacuate the place. 
On June 3, soldiers more subject to the regime, and who were ordered to shoot, assail the students. In a few hours, the dead are in the thousands. 
The day after the massacre, the image of a man alone in front of a tank goes around the world, while a huge apparatus of repression unfolds throughout the country.

Handful archive footage How, thirty years ago, the Chinese Communist Party came to commit a mass crime whose exact number of victims is still unknown? 
Twelve years after the events in 2001, the leak of thousands of secret documents retracing the internal struggles of Chinese power, the "Tiananmen Papers", revealed the chain of events. 
Based on these exceptional documents, the film retains the thread of the days from April to June 1989 thanks to poignant archival images commented by specialists from China and by the former leaders of the movement themselves, for the majority in exile. The ghosts of the "Beijing Spring" continue to haunt them, while a totalitarian regime still governs the country.

Documentary by Ian MacMillan (France / United States, 2019, 52mn)

 Pierre Haski and Lun Zhang

The journalist and president of Reporters Without Borders Pierre Haski and Lun Zhang, former protester in Tiananmen in 1989. Their portrait is signed Gael Legras. 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucvbei6DQHA

 Pierre Haski on the Tiananmen movement

Émilie Aubry reflects on the events of 1989 and their commemoration 
prohibited in 2019, with Pierre Haski, journalist, president of Reporters Without Borders 
https://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/089842-001-A/tiananmen-entretien- with-stone-haski-1-2 /

 Presentations of the documentary "Liu Xiaobo, the man who challenged Beijing"

Liu Xiaobo is a Chinese dissident, Nobel Peace Prize winner.

https://www.arte.tv/en/videos/089842-003-A/tiananmen-maintenance-with-pierre-haski-2-2/ 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnmrSfFQ0fI

  Documentary: LIU Xiabo, the man who challenged Beijing

https://youtu.be/ghw3YrOZWHY

ALGERIA “The West prefers a regime subject to its interests”

 

INTERVIEW WITH HOCINE BELALLOUFI

Wednesday 5 June 2019, by Hocine Belalloufi

Hocine Belalloufi is a journalist and a member of the Parti socialiste des travailleurs (PST – Socialist Workers’ Party, Algerian section of the Fourth International). This interview with fellow journalist Kamel Lakhdar-Chaouche was published in the Algerian daily newspaper l’Expression on April 17, 2019.

The world is discovering with great fascination these Algerians who go onto the street by millions, not to advance social demands, but for their dignity and freedom ...

I think it’s a very ideological reading, neoliberal and purely factual, which stops at what is observable to the naked eye without bothering to get to the bottom of things and understand the deep springs of this popular explosion. Dignity and freedom have a material basis that resides in the economic independence of the individual. Economic and social demands are not yet sufficiently emphasized in the popular movement and I regret it. Everything must be changed so that the trade union and workers’ movement becomes the backbone of the movement, because while workers, the unemployed, pensioners and young people struggle. the partisans of the market economy who ask them to be “above all these low social demands”, fight for their part to preserve and increase the immense subsidies granted to them by the regime for decades. They also struggle to seize power and share the “Algerian cake” directly while imposing “necessary sacrifices” on the people. Understand by this austerity, unemployment, the end of social housing, health and free education, the legal challenge to the right to strike and other joys of the market economy.

Does this Algerian Hirak fit in for you with the dynamics of the Arab revolutions of 2011?

There are two questions here. Algeria is part of several geostrategic zones: the Arab world, the wider Middle East, the Sahel and the Mediterranean basin. These geostrategic zones have in common that they are dominated by the imperialist powers (G7, IMF, NATO and so on). From this point of view, what is happening in Algeria undoubtedly has to do with the process that began in 2011 in the Arab world. All the peoples of this region are subject to political and military domination by the United States and its European, Israeli and Arab allies. They are naturally rebelling against this imperialist order.

I do not think that we are, in Algeria today, in a revolutionary process. Rather, we are in a pre-revolutionary situation where the people exert pressure on the regime to carry out reform. Most Algerians no longer accept the current political order, but it is not, for the moment, at least, in a strategy of direct confrontation aimed at overthrowing the regime. And the latter, which has been on the defensive since February 22, still has forces in reserve and tries to take the initiative with the application of Article 102 and the implementation of a strategy of tension. We are still in a situation of unstable equilibrium.

The chief of staff accuses a “foreign hand”, which he does not name, of wanting to destabilize the country.

This conspiracy view has become a universal constant of authoritarian regimes. The Western “great democracies” which are increasingly authoritarian (United States, France and so on) incessantly accuse Russia or China of wanting to destabilize them. In the countries of the Arab world, it is the foreign hand that is emphasized as an explanatory factor by authoritarian regimes, by sycophants or by imperialist thinkers and politicians fighting against competitors. Three recent examples are particularly striking. [1]

Let us first remark that these texts can be applied to any crisis. It is more of a standard form than a concrete analysis providing a little detail of the present Algerian reality. In these texts, the main actors are neither the regime, nor the people, nor the oligarchs, nor the workers, the magistrates, the doctors or the students, nor even these millions of people who have gone out onto the streets of the country every Friday since February 22nd. The many contradictions of Algerian society are not mentioned at all. They clearly do not represent the main factor of the crisis. The actors are Western services.

These authors proceed by analogies. They completely decontextualize the political dynamics whose bases they do not seek at any time to bring out. They magnify under the microscope an element of the conjuncture, that of the actions of great powers, actions that are in any case permanent and that no analyst can ignore, and they make them “the” main factor, even almost the sole explanation of the crisis. As if a movement of the millions and millions of individuals who make up the people could be activated remotely or by local relays. Now, no movement of this magnitude can be chemically pure. It necessarily contains within itself contradictory forces, national and foreign. But to orient so ostentatiously the gaze on this single aspect is as caricatural as it is miserable.

These texts finally turn out to be tragically poor. We do not find there any historical analysis, even the briefest, of the Algerian social formation nor the least analysis of the political sequence that we live through, of the economic, social, political and ideological crisis of the country. The real Algeria – in the complexity of its social classes and their struggles, its political regime, its ideological currents – apparently does not exist. Our people are presented in the most contemptuous way as an object without soul or spine. A people devoid of conscience, an object reduced to the name of the “street”.

The existence of more or less brutal or subtle pressure and interference from Western foreign powers, but also from certain Gulf monarchies, is beyond doubt. The opposite would have surprised us as it is, in reality, a truism. But these external actions must imperatively be placed in the general context of the foreign policy of these powers and their precise role explained through internal contradictions in the country. Is it certain, for example, that French interests are not already served through the exceptional partnership signed between the Algerian government and Paris? And what about the “excellent relations between Algeria and the United States” highlighted by former Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel just days before the 4th session of the Algerian-American Strategic Dialogue held in early February 2019 in Washington? It is obvious that France and the United States would prefer to deal with a regime totally subject to their interests and desiderata. Are they ready to set Algeria on fire to get there, knowing that most of the people and opponents – with the exception of a handful of ultra-liberals defending the interests of the comprador fraction of the Algerian bourgeoisie is viscerally attached to the national independence of the country of the revolution of November 1st? This is theoretically possible, but neither General Delawarde, nor Ahmed Saâda, nor the author of the Lebanese article has provided any proof.

Will Algeria finally emancipate itself from the regime set up in 1962?

The reduction of the history of independent Algeria to a regime of dictatorship seems to me as reductive as it is dangerous. Independent Algeria has certainly seen the introduction of a single party regime. But this regime, during the first two decades, worked to build a state and an economy independent of the former metropolis and any other imperialist power. It has undoubtedly democratized education and health, opened the doors of the university to the people, substantially improved the condition of the urban and rural popular classes, slowed the development of social inequalities contrary to what we have seen in Tunisia and, above all, in Morocco. It has prevented the development of a comprador bourgeoisie that serves as a relay for international capitalism to plunder the natural and human resources of our country. It industrialized the country and fought against capitalist and imperialist international domination and united with the struggling peoples of the world in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Fight the authoritarian regime with a democratic façade yes, but without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Our project must combine democracy, social justice and national sovereignty and therefore fight against authoritarianism, economic liberalism and imperialist interference and looting.

There are a multitude of proposals for ending the crisis. How do you see them?

The first, that of the regime, is to retain the current liberal-authoritarian regime with a democratic façade. It is massively rejected by the people. The second is that of the ultra-neoliberals of the opposition (democrats, Islamists and nationalists) who use the democratic demand to apply an even more anti-national economic policy and an even harsher social policy (the “necessary sacrifices”). Such an outcome implies the election, as soon as possible, of a President who can, with the vote of the citizens, apply his ultra-neoliberal potion. The third is the one defended by the leftist forces who propose the establishment of a Constituent Assembly so that the people decide not only to elect their representatives, but also and above all, first, on the institutional architecture of the country. Do we need a president of the Republic or not, a Senate or not?

How many times can a deputy, a mayor ... be re-elected? What should they be paid? Can they be recalled by citizens if they betray their commitments? The more the citizens participate massively in the definition of the political regime the more the latter will be solid because based on the trust of the constituents. The argument of urgency does not stand up to the need to give the people the real, not the theoretical, means to really exercise their sovereignty.

Sudan at the Crossroads

 

Sunday 2 June 2019, by Revolutionary Socialists of Eygpt

The great Sudanese revolution has arrived at the crossroads reached by every revolution in the modern era. Are the masses simply removing the head of the regime, or tearing it up by its roots?

The Sudanese people have fought a heroic battle since last December, losing dozens of martyrs in clashes on the streets with the militias of the dictator, Omar al-Bashir. Sudanese revolutionaries have organised huge marches, strikes and sit-ins. At the time of writing, these are continuing in front of the headquarters of the Sudanese Army in Khartoum, and outside army barracks in other provinces. Having forced the downfall of Omar al-Bashir on 11 April, the Sudanese people immediately brought down the head of the Transitional Military Council, Awad Ibn Auf, the next day.

Since Abdelfattah al-Burhan took over the presidency of the military council with his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, Al-Bashir’s generals are trying to divert the Sudanese revolution and empty it of any content in order to buy time to recover from the first blow that the revolutionaries have struck against the regime. The generals have not lost any time. They have been in constant contact with the counter-revolution forces in Cairo, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Manama. Gulf cash has begun to flow towards the military junta, and Egyptian dictator Abdelfattah al-Sisi is working hard to support the military council with intelligence and diplomacy.

The Gulf media are burnishing Hemideti’s image on their screens, sending reassuring messages that the Sudanese army is continuing to take part in the aggression in Yemen.

Things are different in the streets. Sudanese revolutionaries organised two protests to the Egyptian embassy to denounce interference by al-Sisi and Egyptian intelligence services in Sudanese affairs. Banners opposing the Gulf states and their “aid” have proliferated, along with demands for the withdrawal of Sudanese troops from a war in Yemen which they have no interest in fighting.

What about the Sudanese Professionals Association and the Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change which have spearheaded the mobilisation? The leaders of the Sudanese opposition responded to the invitation by the military council to “negotiate” after the fall of al-Bashir and Ibn Auf. Conflicting accounts and leaks about differences with the military council emerged. Then came a call to escalate the sit-ins along with accusations that the military council was manoeuvring in order to try and retain sovereign powers. The opposition went back to the negotiating table again and revealed on 28 April the details of the dispute with the military council.

While the opposition is calling for a “civilian sovereign council”, which would include all the current members of the military council (seven generals), alongside eight civilian members, this was rejected by the military council, which instead called for the addition of only three civilians.

In both cases, the civilian sovereign council would have a military president.

The low bar set by the opposition leaders in their demands sparked anger among many Sudanese revolutionaries, who expressed disappointment in the performance of the negotiators. There was widespread debate on social media, for example asking whether the reason for this complacency was the weakness of the negotiators.

However, the problem is not so much the personalities of the negotiators as the overall strategy of the opposition. By agreeing to negotiate with Al-Bashir’s generals, and allowing them to participate in the transition period, the leaders of the opposition are trying to reconcile the demands of the revolutionary street on the one hand, and the counter-revolutionary generals on the other. This strategy is suicidal for the revolution. Regardless of who the negotiators are, they will betray the hopes of the revolutionaries.

Sit-ins in the streets do not bring down regimes on their own, and the Sudanese Professionals Association has not seriously used general strikes as a weapon since the fall of al-Bashir. Meanwhile the wheel of exploitation continues to turn as revolutionaries gather in the squares to protest after the working day is done. A general strike is necessary to confront the military council while preserving the peaceful character of the movement. In some places, and without waiting for the invitation of the SPA, workers and civil servants are mobilising in their factories and offices to demand permanent contracts, independent unions and to kick their managers from the old regime out of their workplaces. We saw this happen in Egypt in 2011, when Islamists and liberals went on the attack saying “strikes are selfish, now is not the time for them!”

Yet these strikes are the beating heart of the revolution: escalating them into a general strike is a matter of life or death.

There is another challenge. With whom exactly in the military should revolutionaries negotiate? Who from the military should be allowed to take part in the transitional period? Al-Bashir’s generals? Or the junior officers and the soldiers who rebelled against their commanders and fraternised in the streets with the revolutionaries?

The rebellion growing in the lower ranks of the officers and among soldiers was one of the main reasons for the junta’s rush to get rid of Al Bashir, fearing the collapse of the army and the regime. These are the parts of the army that the revolutionaries should be seeking to negotiate and ally with, and whose participation they should be seeking.

Some may accuse the revolutionaries of trying to drag the country into a bloodbath. But the real bloodbath will be the inevitable blow by the generals against the revolution. Maintaining a peaceful revolution requires a quick move towards a general strike and an appeal to the lower ranks of the army to join it.

May 17 2019

Joint Statement of Solidarity with PTM by Feminist Groups across Pakistan

We, as feminists who uphold the peaceful resolution of conflict, stand in solidarity with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) in their struggle for fundamental rights. We condemn the violence that took place on May 26th in the Khar Qamar area of North Waziristan in which 13 civilians were allegedly killed and 46 were injured as a result of army firing. According to the testimonies of eyewitnesses and video footage released on social media, the protesters were unarmed and were peacefully protesting the illegal detention of local residents.

Following this event, Ali Wazir, an elected MNA, was arrested under charges of terrorism. There are also rumours that he has been tortured while in detention. Furthermore, Mohsin Dawar was arrested on May 30th and also charged with terrorism.

Since this time, a curfew has been imposed in Waziristan, which has led to food and medicine shortages, thus putting local residents’ lives at risk. This is a form of collective punishment. Before this, prominent human rights activist Gulalai Ismail’s home was raided and an FIR was lodged against her also on terrorism charges on May 23rd.

We believe all three are innocent and have only been exercising their democratic right to peaceful protest in accordance with the Constitution.

Following this wave of violence and repression, we as feminists demand that:

1. A Senate commission is constituted to investigate the massacre at the Khar Qamar checkpoint so that those responsible can be held accountable and punished.

2. Lift the curfew in Waziristan so that people can have access to food and medicines.

3. Hand all control of all administration, including law enforcement, in former-FATA to civilians in accordance with the 25th amendment.

4. Release Ali Wazir and all protestors arrested with him and drop all charges against them.

5. Release Mohsin Dawar and drop all charges against him.

6. Drop the FIRs lodged against Gulalai Ismail.

7. Hold free and fair trials of all persons arrested in the former-FATA before civilian courts.

8. Allow the media and human rights observers access in Waziristan in order for events to be covered impartially.

9. Lift the unofficial media blackout on the PTM at the national level.

As feminists, we support the PTM’s democratic right to non-violent protest, and we oppose all forms of violence and repression against them and the residents of Waziristan.

Saturday 1 June 2019,

Women’s Action Forum (Lahore) Women’s Action Forum (Peshawar) Women’s Action Forum (Islamabad) Women’s Action Forum (Quetta) Women’s Action Forum (Hyderabad) Women’s Action Forum (Karachi)

Statement by Left Voice (Vame Handa) of Sri Lanka on the Easter Bombings

Press Statement of Vame Handa („Left Voice‟)

 

Colombo, 26 April 2019

“President and Government should be held responsible for Easter Sunday carnage”

At least 253 people were killed and 500 were wounded due to the suicide attacks carried out by religious extremists on Easter Sunday on three churches and three luxury tourist hotels in Sri Lanka. The Left Voice, an organisation of socialist activists in the trade unions and peoples’ struggles, unconditionally condemns this barbaric attack.

We express our sorrow to the families of the affected. It is disclosed that this attack was carried out by National Thowheed Jamath, an organisation based in Sri Lanka. In the meantime, Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for this atrocity.

Full responsibility for all the damages to lives and property in this tragic violence should be taken by the Government of Sri Lanka. Even though intelligence information including the identity of some of the individuals who exploded the bombs were received by the police around 4 April. The government did not inform the public of this credible threat nor take any preventive steps to stop this disaster. The Secretary to the Ministry of Defense (who has since resigned following public outrage) confirmed that he was aware of this intelligence but didn't act on it, believing it to be exaggerated.

While the public is rightly criticizing the entire government for its criminal irresponsibility, the President and Prime Minister are passing the buck onto others including each other. The opportunity for Sri Lanka to become a bombing ground has been created by the unstable political situation for which both leaders are responsible.

It is necessary to understand the socio-economic roots of this type of extremism among young Muslims. Sinhala chauvinist forces which strengthened after the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, considered the local Muslim community as its next antagonist.

The Muslim community, especially in the Eastern province, is economically disadvantaged. The post-war campaigns against halal food certification and the slaughter of cows as carried out by Sinhala racist forces were actually campaigns against Muslim commercial interests. The war-time Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (and brother to the former president), Gotabhaya Rajapakse protected the Bodu Bala Sena (‘Buddhist Army Force’) movement who led those racist campaigns. He aspires to be the next President of the country with the backing of those same forces.

The Muslim businessmen of Colombo city have been under threat from Sinhala racists who organize boycotts of their stores as well as attack them, with no protection from previous and present Governments. It appears that some of the suicide bombers were well-educated children of rich businessmen. The context of anti-Muslim racism and Islamophobia has clearly helped ISIS and other reactionary groups to penetrate into the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

The present opposition leader and ex-president Mahinda Rajapakse has stated that he too was aware of the possibility of terror attacks. He complains that the present government enabled this situation through arrests of a few intelligence personnel implicated in abductions and disappearances during his regime. Now all three parties, the President, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are committed to strengthening the security forces and police by introducing new oppressive laws. The President has declared a state of emergency which threatens democratic rights. Other authoritarian steps include blocking access to social media platforms and the cancellation of May Day rallies next week.

The crisis in the present Sri Lankan Government (Ranil-Sirisena) which developed since 26th October 2018, has now shattered the Sri Lankan state. It is now an opportune moment to rally round all the forces to push this Government out of existence which is strongly echoing in the peoples' sentiments demanding the Govt. to resign. If we delay in the task of defeating this Government, a right wing coup will be hatched in the very near future.

A dangerous turn is that the government has requested the support of imperialist countries such as the United States, labeling them as international terrorist activity. At this moment operatives from FBI & Scotland Yard are active in Sri Lanka. We should not exclude the possibility of imperialist intervention in the name of crushing terrorism.

The most dangerous situation is the possibility of attacks against Muslims all over the island by racist forces. The Left forces should take the leadership to avoid this type of situation. One important step towards such activity is to hold the May Day despite the state ban. Further, progressive forces should come forward to defeat the government’s open invitation to foreign intervention.

Linus Jayatilake Leader – Left Voice Organization

Radical Socialist Stand on Indian Elections 2019

 

Defeat the BJP

Strengthen the Working Class, Left and All Progressive Movements

 

 

A: Five Years of the BJP Rule

In 2014, the National Democratic Alliance, headed by the BJP, won 38.5% votes, but, due to India’s first past the post electoral system, that was enough for it to get 336 out of 543 seats. The BJP itself got 31% votes and 282 seats. This had a dramatic effect. It meant, that while there was a coalition government, it was now firmly under the grip of the BJP, which no longer needed the Vajpayee type of conciliatory mask. The core RSS agenda could be brought forward without any hesitation. The push for Modi for Prime Minister had been funded by a considerable part of the Indian big bourgeoisie. Thus, the rise of Narendra Modi was also connected to Indian big capital.   To assess the five years of the Modi-led government, therefore, we need to grasp the totality of the following elements: a sluggish neoliberal economy mired in cronyism, a sharp attack on democratic rights, attacks on Muslims and Dalits, a determined Hindutva pushed and a splintered opposition to these developments.

The Economic situation: Cronyism, mismanagement and widening inequality

A general economic malaise

The five years of BJP rule has not been a period of sustained high growth. Certainly a few favoured cronies of the ruling dispensation have profited tremendously. Adani’s growth has been staggering and most remarkable of all industrial houses. In 2017 alone the Adani group grew by 124.6%. In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the helicopter personally used by Narendra Modi was provided by Adani. In the economy as a whole, however, much of the capitalist class has not done spectacularly. Overall growth rates, despite much massaging of figures, have remained well short of the performance of UPA I. Investment in the economy has remained low, with the Gross Fixed Capital Formation falling as a percentage of GDP over the period. Agrarian distress has sent even large landholders on protest marches in Delhi and Mumbai. Employment generation, one of the BJP’s signature poll promises, has been tellingly absent. The latest NSSO data, leaked despite government efforts to bury it, reveal that there has been a shrinkage in the male workforce for the first time since 1993.

Indeed, each of the BJP’s signature economic measures have been conspicuous failures.

·        The biggest of these was demonetization. It was carried out supposedly to check black money. The claim about recovering black money has been demonstrated to be false. The Reserve Bank of India has confirmed that 99.3% of demonetised notes were returned to the bank. The sudden decision had a massive negative impact on the Indian economy, including a slowdown in employment of labour and a dip in overall farm incomes. Growth slowed down to a four-year low of 6.7%.

·        Though planned by the Congress, the BJP executed the imposition of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which, besides causing a further decline in growth rates, effectively enhances the dependence of states to the centre, by replacing the state controlled Sales Tax in favour of an all India GST, whose rates are decided by a GST council where every state is just one member, together with the Centre, and therefore quite powerless to alter the rates it can charge, it is clearly taking away states’ powers.

·        The much touted Make in India scheme has, so far, floundered on the falling rate of investment by the private sector. FDI as a percentage of GDP has remained limited to around 2 per cent. Only a minuscule proportion of this has gone to the manufacturing sector.

This government has hardly proved an able steward of the economy, even by the standards of the capitalist class.

Rising inequalities

While growth in the economy has been sluggish and concentrated in a select few companies, smaller firms have been hit by Modi’s penchant for spectacular authoritarian gestures. Demonetisation – an utterly ineffectual measure – devastated Small and Medium Enterprises, while leaving big capital relatively unscathed. The much touted Mudra loan scheme aimed at the former, has had a risible average loan of just over Rs. 45,000. Smaller business continue to limp back to normalcy while Gautam Adani waltzes into the list of the world’s richest people.

Among the ordinary people of this country, too, wealth has continued to concentrate among those at the top. The Global Wealth Report 2018 published by the Credit Suisse, an investment bank, says India now has 343,000 persons owning over one million US dollars, or about 7 crores of Indian rupees, worth of wealth. According to the World Inequality Database, the income of the top 1% of the Indian population was Rs 33 lakh per adult or Rs 275,000 per month, while the income of the bottom 50% of the population was Rs 45,000 per year per adult, that is Rs 3750 per month.

Spiralling inequality is an outcome of the effort to wind up or curtail welfare expenditures. After its initial frontal assault on India’s fledgling social safety net – the PDS and MNREGA – failed, the BJP settled for death by a thousand cuts. Overall welfare expenditure has increased only marginally while tall claims have been made about the pathbreaking nature of schemes that were essentially re-launches of existing government measures. There have been no countervailing expenditures by the state to check the growth of inequalities.

Rampant Cronyism

Cronyism, then, has been a keynote of this government. This has not been a regime that has spread wealth far and wide across even corporate India. Instead, a chosen few have been consistently favoured for positions of power and direct benefits transfer. The Planning Commission was replaced by the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Ayog, which has already identified 74 central public sector undertakings (CPSUs) – including 26 for downright closure and 10 for strategic disinvestment. The government has appointed Reliance Mutual Fund Managers to provide consultancy and execute its project of quick selling 10 CPSUs strategic to the national economy, including ONGC, GAIL, Oil India Limited, Indian Oil Corporation, Coal India Limited, BHEL, Bharat Electronics Limited etc through the Exchange Traded Fund (ETF). So the Ambanis, who are among the corporates sector closest to the BJP, are asked to oversee privatization. The numbers of Non-performing assets held by corporate houses has increased steadily over the period of the BJP government and have  contributed to making the position of the financial sector one of the most tenuous in the current economy.

Government figures themselves inform that every year, the national exchequer is robbed of not less than Rs 5 lakh crore through non-repayment of loans and tax fraud. In 2015-16 alone, direct tax evasion amounted to Rs 6.59 lakh crore. In mid 2017, the bad loans of India’s nationalised banks amounted to about 10 lakh crore rupees. The top ten business group borrowers alone accounted for 5 lakh crores.

·        The Rafale Scandal is too well known to need a detailed discussion. In place of giving the contract to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, it went to the Anil Ambani owned Reliance Defence Limited, which has no experience. The cost of the aircrafts went up from what had been originally negotiated. The final version of the deal, in September 2016, saw India signing an inter-governmental agreement with France, in which India will pay about Rs. 58,000 crore or 7.8 billion Euros for 36 off-the-shelf Dassault Rafale twin-engine fighters.  According to Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie (dissident BJP leaders, not leftists) along with Prashant Bhushan,  the total price of 36 aircraft is about 60,000 crore, which works out to be Rs.1,660 crore per plane. This makes the price more than double the original 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft proposal.

Any question about the scam has been answered by accusations that asking such questions threaten India’s national security. We do not accept the bourgeois nationalist perception of national security in any case, where increasing military hardware is the main task. But even when that line of argument is advanced, we want to ask, if it was true that India needed 126 aircraft, buying 36 at a higher price benefits whom?

Why is BJP the chosen vehicle of the capitalist class?

If economic mismanagement, rampant cronyism and rising inequalities have characterised the current government what are we to make of the consolidation of the capitalist class behind the BJP? This is best captured in the vast gulf between the incomes of the BJP from any other political formation. According to an Association for Democratic Rights report, the BJP accounted for 80% of the income of national parties for 2017-18. For donations above Rs. 20,000 the BJP received 93% of such donations (Rs. 437 crores) while the INC received Rs. 26.6 crore of such donations. This gulf in funding is one of the many indicators of the capitalist consolidation behind the BJP. What explains such a one-sided choice?

The answer lies not so much in the performance, but in the promise of the BJP. Plans for over 11 industrial corridors lie with the current government. The scale of these plans is instructive. The largest of these currently ongoing is the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor; at $100 billion, this is easily the largest infrastructure project ever in India. It spans the states of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. This project alone will urbanise an estimated 12 per cent of India over the next 30 years, displace 20,000 families. Other industrial plans on this scale and larger include the Bengaluru-Mumbai Economic corridor, Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial corridor and Amritsar-Kolkata Industrial corridor. Most of these will require the firm and cruel hand of the government of the day as millions of people are displaced.

On this count, the BJP government has made all the right noises. With the dilution of environmental clearances, the continual surveillance of people’s movements and the demonstrated willingness to use the coercive apparatus of the state to put down opposition, the BJP has repeatedly demonstrated both ability and desire to carry through repression on the truly mass scale that this industrial push will entail once investment picks up.

The Congress, initiator of most of these industrial plans, may feel a petulant envy at the favour the BJP currently enjoys with Indian big business. For Left and Progressive forces, however, this only underlines the need to think more comprehensively about our strengths and weaknesses in the coming battles.


.Democracy Under Threat

To the authoritarian stamp needed to push through neoliberal measures, this government has also added its own Hindutva twist. Attacks on democratic rights and constitutional provisions have increased since 2014. The secular and democratic elements of the constitution are being whittled down at the expense of the Hindu-tinged, communal and scholastic orientation.

Decimating Political opposition

There has been a concerted and systematic marginalization of the opposition typified by the slogan Congress mukt Bharat. Whenever possible, they have subverted democratic content within the parliamentary form to wipe out the opposition; but even otherwise they have not stopped at brazen attacks if needed.

The election of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi was one of the first electoral setbacks to the Modi regime. There has been an unremitting assault on this regime through a shameless campaign of obstruction using the peculiarly complex structure of the Delhi government. The lengths to which the BJP has gone have included the refusal of the Delhi Development Authority (controlled by the centre) to provide land to the Delhi Governement for neighbourhood clinics. The Lt. Governor has repeatedly refused transfers of officials requested by the AAP government. Municipal services (controlled by the BJP through the municipal corporations) have been repeatedly interrupted through non-payment of the wages of municipal workers.

Elsewhere, money power and the governor have been used to subvert democratic mandates. Take for instance the 2017 Assembly elections in Goa. The BJP got 13 seats (reduced from 21 in the previous Assembly elections) compared to the Congress’s 17 and yet ManoharParrikarwas asked to form a government by Governor MridulaSinha. The situation was reversed in the Karnataka Assembly elections when the BJP had more seats than the Congress, but the Congress-JDS post-poll alliance had more numbers than BJP. The drama unfolded on live television for the next few days as people could witness the brazen horse trading of MPs and recorded audio tapes of Yedurappa offering money to buy MPs.

More generally, opposition figures have been repeatedly painted as anti-national and betrayers of a supposed national consensus. Questioning the government in parliament has been painted as efforts to destroy the nation. This is, of course, when parliament has even functioned. The average duration of past Lok Sabhas has been 468 days. The 16thLok Sabha compares badly, with 331 days of sitting in its entire life. Meanwhile, there was a mainstreaming of aggressive hate speech. Hate speech by MPs, MLAs and Ministers, defined as statements that are clearly communal, casteist, or calls to violence, rose by 490% between May 2014 and April 2018. 90% of such comments were by BJP politicians.

As socialists we have always maintained that bourgeois democracy is limited and partial at best, but guarantees of even limited political democracy are now being rolled back.

Capturing and Undermining Institutions

A bourgeois democratic system is of course first and foremost a democracy for the bourgeoisie. In other words, a major difference between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois authoritarianisms of various kinds is that in the former all sections of the bourgeoisie have greater access to the corridors of power and get opportunities for accumulating capital. But this government is characterized by weakening of all forms of democratic institutions. The institutions of the state are suborned and subverted to suit the narrow goals of the Sangh Parivar—a steady lurch towards a Hindu Rashtra.

Of these the first is the massive attack on the judiciary. In early 2018, four judges of the Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of holding a press conference to voice their protest against the arbitrary allocation of cases by the then Chief Justice of India. This was not mere factionalism within the court, but a revolt against how the CJI was allegedly distributing cases to suit the Modi Government.

A second institution under siege is the system of higher education: at the level of the universityas well as the umbrella body of higher education the UGC. Right after getting elected in 2014, the BJP has relentlessly targeted the central institutes of higher education, most prominently JNU, HCU, etc. Vice Chancellors in these universities have transformed structures of university governance, ridden roughshod over Teachers’ Associations and threatened students. Structures of participatory and consultative administration are fast being replaced by a culture of bullying and intimidation of faculty and staff.

Along with branding any independent critical assessment of the regime as anti-national, the present government has tried to remove the very basis of assessment. By manipulating the figures put out by autonomous statistical institutes like the NSSO, a complete control over information has been sought. Data increasingly are either not released at all, or else are ‘massaged’ to a point that strains credulity. This has been true of the controversial GDP figures, data about demonetisation and its effects and, most consistently, data about employment. The resignation of two non-governmental members of the National Statistical Commission (NSC) points to the direct government intervention in the workings of the statistical institutes.

The CBI has completely become a tool of the government to harass opposition party members. It must be recognized that unlike the courts, or civil society organizations, the CBI cannot even be thought of as any kind of pro-people institution. Furthermore it must be recognized that the independence of the CBI has always remained compromised no matter which government is in power. But, the functioning of the CBI has sunk to depths not seen in the past. It has been used to target opposition parties, and arm twist opposition leaders to change sides, etc. This of course shows the poor moral and political standards of such opposition politicians – like Mukul Roy, who switched from being a high ranking Trinamool Congress leader to the BJP -- but this also shows that the CBI is not probing corruption or crime. Instead, it has become an instrument for turning tainted or dubious opposition leaders into BJP leaders.

 

Crackdown on Civil Society Organisations

For workers, peasants, dalits, adivasis, religious minorities, attacks on other organisations matter more. There has been a relentless attack on civil society and human rights organizations, human rights activists and NGOs like the Greenpeace, INSAF, etc. Selectively using bureaucratic and legalistic mechanisms like the application of FCRA regulations the government has pushed human rights activists and NGOs to the margin by accusing that they take foreign funding, when the irony is that it is the Sangh Parivar which is one of the highest recipients of foreign funding from NRIs.

There has been seen a massive use of undemocratic laws against workers, dalits, adivasis, Muslims. The singling out of the Dalit protests over Bhima-Koregaon is particularly significant as a symbolic action. After violence on the peaceful gathering at Bhima-Koregaon by Hindutva provocateurs fake claims about their programme being Maoist was used to widen the net, and arrest many civil rights activists, seize laptops and plant fake “evidence”, seize books containing keywords like Marx, Lenin or Mao, etc. Between April and August 2018 there was a broadening of the net, with the arrests of artistes like the Kabir Kala Manch, civil rights activists like Professor Shoma Sen, SudhaBhardwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Arun Fereira, Vernon Gonlsalves, poets like Varavara Rao, activists like Sudhir Dhawale, the editor of the Marathi magazine Vidrohi and founder of the Republican Panthers, etc. However, the FIR the arrests were based on related to the violence that followed the Bhima-Koregaon event. In other words, there is an attempt to attack Dalit activists and civil rights activists as Maoists, and to say that if you are a Maoist then you have no democratic rights.

The cases have increasingly been made under the UAPA along with various sections of the Indian Penal Code. The UAPA is an act that allows ferocious violence on the accused. GN Saibaba, a wheelchair-bound teacher with 90 per cent physical disability, along with five others, were convicted by Suryakant Shinde, a sessions judge at Gadchiroli District Court, Maharashtra, under Sections 13,18, 20, 38 and 39 of the UAPA and Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).The UAPA, by its own definition, does not arrest citizens for committing a crime. It does so to prevent them from doing so. But what constitutes an “unlawful activity”? Just about any action that either “disclaims, questions, disrupts or is intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India” or causes or is intended to cause “disaffection against India”. Left intentionally vague, these words manage to cover almost any action that the “Designated Authority” feels can constitute a threat against the nation, thus justifying the drive to a police state.

Hate Crimes: Terrorising Minorities and Dalits

Most striking of all has been the free rein given by the BJP government to vigilante groups affiliated to the Sangh Parivar to carry on a campaign of terror and intimidation against minorities and dalits. Designed to keep these groups fearful and simultaneously rouse the social base for Hindutva, the incidence of these crimes has mounted steadily. Government data on communal violence shows a spike of 28 per cent between 2014 and 2017. In the name of beef ban and cow protection, there have been repeated attacks, murders.

Even more serious, the state has acted in favour of organised mobs carrying out such lynching activity. Thus, in 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq was murdered after being accused of beef eating. The police, instead of targeting murderers, wanted to investigate whether the meat in his home was beef or not. And Modi, after keeping silent for several days, issued an ambiguous statement, instead of an outright condemnation.  In October 2015, amid protests spurred by rumours of cow slaughtering, a truck was attacked with a petrol bomb, killing one Muslim man in Jammu and Kashmir. In March 2016, two Muslims were killed and hanged in the tribal state of Jharkhand after being accused of smuggling cows. On June 22, 2017, three Muslims were killed in West Bengal state after being accused of cow smuggling. On June 27, a Muslim dairy owner in the state of Jharkhand was attacked by a mob after being accused of killing a cow; the man was rushed to a hospital in critical condition after the police managed to save him from his attackers.

These were not accidental and stray incidents. The UP government of Adityanath made a ban on beef one of its first tasks. Cow protection, a Brahminical agenda, has been used to systematically generate violence on Muslims and Dalits.

There have, thus, been threats to democracy at every level: from the parliament to the grassroots. The effect has been a cumulative one: fuelling an atmosphere of of fear and intimidation among dissenting groups while emboldening the cadre of Hindutva.

Pushing the Hindutva Agenda

The last issue discussed brings us to the BJP-RSS offensive in pushing the Hindutva agenda. Many parties and organisations on the left, when they use the term fascism against the RSS, do not recognise that fascism or fascist-like itself implies two simultaneous dimensions –the economic offensive against the common people and in favour of the big bourgeoisie, and the ideological offensive of aggressive nationalism. In India, that means pushing the Hindutva agenda and generating hyper nationalism, against particularly Pakistan. It is not that only one of these is a “real” agenda while the other is a diversion. The strength of the RSS lies in the forces it has generated in civil society, basing themselves on aggressive Hindu nationalism. This is not the belief of all Hindus, but a very aggressive nationalism, where the nation is defined as Hindu. Its strength lies partly in the previous Hindu inflection of the nationalist movement, and the consequent Hindu bias in aspects of the Constitution itself. But the Constitution, and the nationalist movement, were both the result of compromises. The RSS was a purely aggressive Hindutva force. And in the last five years it has pushed its agenda very far, in numerous ways. It has attacked all major secular democratic institutions of higher education, and especially humanities and social sciences, because these teach youth to look at society critically. It has degraded science, by stressing fake ancient science.

Pushing the Hindutva agenda has also meant violence on rationalists. The murders of Kalburgi, Dabholkar, Pansare and Gauri Lankesh show the extent to which the aggressive Hindutva forces are willing to go. The degree of their impunity has grown. When in some cases they are checked by law and court orders, as in the Sabarimala case, they attack the secular and democratic laws. Thus, in the case of Sabarimala, Modi attacked the state government of Kerala for doing the little it did to protect the women who wanted to enter the temple. In other cases, they have pushed the Hindutva agenda in other ways. Thus, the Supreme Court had struck down instant triple talaq. That is enough to make it illegal. But the passage of an Act that makes it a criminal offense and prescribes a jail term for the offending man, does not actually protect Muslim women, who in such a case would not get security, while the criminalisation would go against the reconciliation that they presumably seek. In no other religion are men (or women) flouting legal divorce procedures criminalised in this way.

Finally, pushing the Hindutva agenda means taking a far more aggressive stance on Kashmir, as well as on Pakistan. On Kashmir, by pulling out of the alliance with the PDP and establishing President’s rule, they have the province under their control. At the same time, by their collaboration with Israel and the extensive use of techniques originally used by Israel against the Palestinians, they have shown how violent they will be. And the Pulwama incident shows how aggressive nationalism will turn to war threats, even while there is the risk of its escalation between the two nuclear powered neighbours.

The Pulwama event and its aftermath are major electoral campaign issues of AmitShah, Narendra Modi and their cohorts. So let us look at some questions dispassionately. Why was the warning of an attack ignored? And why did 80 car loads of soldiers go in such a huge convoy, making it a tempting target? Third, why is the question never posed of what has made Kashmiri youth turn to militancy for decades or why so much violence is inflicted in Kashmir? The attitude is – the territory of Kashmir is an integral part of India,but the people of Kashmir do not matter. Their rights to maximum autonomy, promised in 1947 when India also promised a plebiscite, have been long betrayed. Today, even their elementary democratic rights, are violated by keeping lakhs of armed personnel there and continuously exercising violence against them.

Following Pulwama, in place of examining these issues, the government claimed to have carried out a bombing of a major terrorist camp deep inside Pakistan. This was accompanied by a campaign of nationalist fervour in the media. In the face of this aggressive nationalism a left perspective must stand implacably opposed and demand a focus on the rights of Kashmiris.

Working class and progressive social movements

The period of the current BJP government has not been one of working class strength. While there have been important workplace struggles in a number of places, The working class has not emerged at the forefront of opposition to the rise of Hindutva. More significant progressive opposition has come from a variety of groups: students, dalits, peasants and women.

The Working Class

The period has seen ominous labour law reforms being proposed which would make it harder to unionise and reforms to social security of organised workers. The Labour Code on Industrial Relations Bill was so draconian that it was rejected by the RSS’s own union (the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh). The 2018 Draft Labour Code on Social Security would similarly marginalise unions from negotiations over social security.

Despite this clear attack, the period has not been one in which militant labour struggles have been launched or supported by the established trades unions. Major strike actions  have been largely symbolic one or two day actions with little impact, though participation has been impressive. The divisions among the larger trades unions have deepened with the BMS often relying on its special connection to the government to bargain.

Outside the central unions also there have been militant struggles. A wildcat action on a huge scale (1.25 lakh workers) by largely women workers in the garment sector of Bengaluru  points to the continuing intensity of, both, exploitation and the fight back against it by workers. Less sporadic, more sustained and militant struggles have also occurred. Struggles have emerged along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor: those in Manesar and Neemrana by workers from Maruti, Honda, Daikin and other companies were particularly important. In this context, the effort by some of the unions leading militant working class struggles in those regions have come closer to form larger platform  ‘Mazdoor Adhikar Sangharsh Abhiyan (MASA)’. Similarly, building bases for united militant working class struggle and politicising these struggles elsewhere are critical tasks ahead.

Rather than from the working class, the sharpest opposition to the current regime has come a number of other sections.

Students

Among the earliest opposition to the NDA regime came from students in universities across the country. Beginning with protests in FTII, the emergence of Ambedkar-Periyar Study circles in IITs to the Ambedkar Students Association at Hyderabad Central University. These were determined and militant struggles against which the state took severe measures, including those that led to the death of Rohith Vemula. The struggle of students at JNU took on a wider scope with the effort to term students seditious. These major sites of revolt were mirrored by impressive student struggles in Jadavpur, TISS, and a number of other campuses.

The suppression of each of these movements has proceeded apace. But, through actual networks of solidarity, and through force of example, the students’ movements have tended to spread and support each other. Most recently, struggles against the state’s efforts to, in effect, nullify reservations among faculty have also sparked pitched battles on campus.

The unrest on university campuses are not the result of some greater awareness of students. The People’s Commission on Shrinking Democratic Spaces has revealed the breadth of actions required to transform India’s higher education into the neo-liberal university. High handed university authorities are required to create the more quiescent, pliable, and professionalised public university desired by the Hindu Right and neo-liberals alike. An agenda of surreptitious privatization has also been pushed. There has been a steady decline in the funds invested in higher education as a proportion of GDP, a reduction in enrolment of MPhil students, and in 2018, for the first time in India, the enrolment of undergraduate students in private institutes has exceeded those in the central institutes. Meanwhile, universities are also the sites of other social transformations. As the Saksham Committee report has revealed, with 47 per cent of students in higher education being women, this is nearly the only place in the entire economy where men and women are present in equal numbers. The OBC reservations have made universities more representative than ever before. Graduate employment prospects continue to be dismal.

University campuses are churning as a result of larger structural forces. Student agitations on university campuses seem likely to continue and a perspective of politicising and connecting them to other struggles is crucial.

Dalit Groups

Protests by Dalit groups have, in this period, continued to have a radical edge that has  worried the BJP regime. As mentioned, Dalits along with Muslims, have been direct targets of cow vigilantism. The incident at Una, Gujarat of publicly flogging Dalits sparked a grassroots mobilisation in that state. Earlier, Dalit groups were among those at the forefront of protests against the institutional actions that led to the death of RohithVemula at HCU. Most impressive of all, perhaps, was the response to the April 2018 Bharat Bandh call against the dilution of the SC/ST Atrocities Act. Particularly across North India, there was an unexpectedly large response which shut down many cities. Similarly impressive was the Maharashtra Bandh called by Prakash Ambedkar in response to the attacks by Hindu nationalist groups on the Dalit commemorations at Bhima-Koregaon.

The state and Hindutva groups more generally have adopted a two-pronged approach vis-a-vis Dalit Groups. On the one hand, to attack these movements and mobilisations. The sordid attempt to deny Vemula’s Dalit identity, the arrests and crackdowns against the protestors involved in the Bharat Bandh and the brutal attacks on the Bhima-Koregaon protests followed by efforts to imprison many of the organisers for being ‘Urban Naxals’. The second prong has been to try to assimilate and Hindu-ise Dalits. Partial veneration of Ambedkar (as an anti-Muslim thinker), the appointment of Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit, as President, patronising high-visibility stunts like the PM washing the feet of Dalits, and being prepared to bring in ordinances and legislations on SC/ST atrocities and the university appointments roster are all examples of this more conciliatory approach.

It is important to recognise that no Hindutva approach will successfully and stably incorporate Dalit demands. The ethos of the RSS is a fundamentally brahminical one and that will not change. It is equally important that historical suspicions, where they exist, between Left and Dalit groups must be overcome. Joining together in struggles – particularly working class struggles – are crucial for this to happen.

Peasants

Agrarian distress has reached a critical point and peasants have been on the march. Impressive mobilisations have happened in Mumbai, led by the All India Kisan Sabha and in Delhi with a coalition of various groups. At more local levels there have been agitations of farmers as well. Discontent about non-payment of dues to sugarcane farmers has put the BJP on the backfoot in Western Uttar Pradesh.

The farmers’ agitations have brought together a coalition of farmers. This includes rich farmers and marginal ones. The existence of this coalition reflects the depth of the crisis in which the agrarian sector finds itself. This has, moreover, been a long time coming. With the an industrial push in place, it seems quite clear that band-aids are all that is on offer for the deep gashes inflicted on the agrarian sector over two decades. The concessions won by the movement – the government’s announcement of Rs. 6000 per year to land holders – represents one such band-aid with little hope of addressing the underlying crisis in agriculture.

Women’s movements

These past few years have also seen a remarkable explosion of popular energies on issues of women’s rights in public and private. Beginning from the mass mobilisations following the 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, the issue of gendered violence, sexual harassment, rape and unequal work conditions for men and women have been brought to centre stage. Women have protested in academia, journalism, and a number of other professions. The debate has also posed the issue of caste-based forms of gendered violence with particular force.

While these movements have not taken direct aim at the BJP regime, their far-reaching exposure of the forms of male dominance in public life have brought a new generation of women (and some men) into radical activism. These were the actions and energies of the Pinjratod movement against the confinement of women through curfews in university hostels, the demand for the creation of safer workplaces through the Me Too movement and other protests such as the ‘Garima Yatra’ of survivors of sexual violence across 24 states. Even in BHU, often seen as a bastion of Hindutva organising, women’s protests have shaken the establishment. There is a fundamental incompatibility of the demands for equality and freedom being articulated in these struggles and the masculinist ethos and atavistic values promoted by the Sangh Parivar. Strengthening these movements will form a critical part of a resistance that points towards a more liberatory future. Indeed deepening the intersectional vision and connecting them to working class struggles will be critical to the winning of these ends.

These varied movements have given some hope of the persistence of a spirit of struggle. At times they have even been able to roll back this or that aspect of the Hindutva juggernaut.  Nevertheless, it must be recognised that these are not much more than the starting points of a potential alternative. There have been important fissures between these various movements. A broader vision of strengthening Left and progressive movements through strengthening the working class is necessary.

 

B: Is Congress the alternative?

There is considerable agreement over many of the issues we have discussed in the foregoing sections. However, the situation in India today calls, not for academic discussions, but concrete political actions. And this is where a wide range of views and perspectives come up.

The Liberal anti-BJP standpoint has as its principal axis the desire to replace a BJP parliamentary majority by a different majority. For many liberals, particularly the English speaking elite, the main target is to have a favourable outcome in the elections of 2019. This has made the Congress their principal choice. Indeed, even the parliamentary left seems enamoured of this option. The calculation is purely arithmetical. To block the BJP there has to be a firm parliamentary majority of 290 to 300. Unless there is at least one party as the core of the opposition bloc capable of getting at least 130 to 150 seats, no alternative government would be able to be sworn in. It is worth remembering that the Election Commission now has at its helm people aligned to Modi, that the President is an RSS man, as is the Vice President. With dice loaded so much, mainstream liberals have become admirers of the Congress. Rahul Gandhi, once mercilessly trolled as ineffectual, he is now constantly held up as a mature politician and contrasted favourably with Modi.

A minimal gloss of welfarism is given to this basically ‘mathematical’ affirmation of the INC. One measure referred to is the NYAY scheme announced just recently. This is a minimum income support scheme, to pay Rs. 12,000 per month to the 20% families in the poorest of poor category. The Congress’s own lack of interest in the scheme is indicated by how poorly it has been thought through. Proper estimation of household income cannot be done through NSSO household consumption surveys. Past experience has demonstrated that this kind of targetting generates huge errors: by including undeserving recipients while excluding those that need and qualify for support. Finally, the Congress has not said how it is going to raise funds for this scheme estimated at Rs. 3.65 lakh crores over the 5-year government term. Given the Congress’s fundamental neoliberalism, it is unlikely to raise taxes on corporates or the rich. Instead, the most likely approach will be to wind up other social welfare schemes to pay for this one. Nor is there likely to be any serious move to do what is most needed: prioritize the creation of free, universal, quality healthcare; make available quality public primary and secondary schooling for all; install adequate social security and pension for the elderly; massive investment on public housing and transport and so on.

There are some extremely important problems with support for the Congress. One or two may not trouble liberals overmuch, but they must trouble anyone claiming to be a socialist and to standing on the grounds of class struggle. There are troublesome problems even if we were to stay close to the premise of the liberals.

As socialists, we need to ask, apart from the demonetisation issue, and leaving aside Hindutva for a very short while, can we discern major differences between the BJP and the Congress? If we look at the period 1991-2018, the Congress was in government for fifteen years. The dismantling of the state sector, the destruction of the Public Distribution System, the privatisation of banks, all began under Congress governments, even if the BJP has been able to push these through with greater success in the last five years.

The plan for the GST, which we have seen takes away the autonomy of provinces, in the name of national unity, was also planned by the Congress. So was the UID scheme, now known as Aadhaar -- a step in creating a police state. At the same time, it is unsafe, as leakages have already shown. In other words, not only does the state gain massive control over people, but the data can be leaked to private corporate players. It is not surprising that the Congress criticisms about Aadhaar were all minor and over technicalities. It has not, and cannot, put up any principled opposition to the UID scheme as a whole.

A second problem that socialists should have is the attempt at moving the discourse to personalities and to a two-party system. On one hand, we are constantly asked to consider who will be the better Prime Minister, Modi or Rahul Gandhi. Or, we are asked, if an alliance wins, will there not be instability due to too many contenders for the position of Prime Minister? This is an attempt to move India more and more in the direction of a plebiscitary and a presidential style politics. Revolutionary socialists have always insisted that socialist democracy must be more democratic than bourgeois democracy. So we cannot support a shrinking democracy by making it a Modi versus Rahul Gandhi fight, but by fighting for proportional representation, so that any party getting 1 per cent vote gets five seats in the Lok Sabha, and by making it a transferrable ballot, so that no vote is wasted. If the party of first choice does not get 1 percent then the vote will be transferred to the party of second choice. We must remember, also, what US leftist activists say about the Republicans and the Democrats – the bosses have two parties, we have none.  The two party system is a conscious attempt to create a false choice for the masses, while the bosses and elites control both the parties.

The other problem with seeing the Congress at the core of a supposed secular-democratic alliance is, that it is neither very democratic, nor deeply secular. If we look at how the Congress has used the Constitution and other laws, it becomes clear that from the outset there was an attempt to strike a ‘balance’ between secular and Hindu communal tendencies, along with a centralising tendency which carried a whiff of the Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan politics. This is evident if we look at the Constitutional promise to promote cow protection: a Brahminical demand dressed up in a pro-agriculture garb.  This is also evident when we look carefully at Schedule VIII, with its promise of developing Hindi, and the concept that this would necessitate drawing resources from Sanskrit. The collapse of the Hindu Code Bill was likewise the result of a compromise with Hindu communalists. 

But it is not merely a matter of the past. In the last few years we have seen that the Congress has taken the view, that secular liberals have no option, but to vote for the Congress and neither do the Muslims.  It therefore sees its task as one of wooing the Brahminical forces. On a significant range of issues, the Congress has reverted to a policy of soft Hindutva. In very recent times, two of its actions describe this clearly. One is the Congress response to the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala. In Kerala, it tried to compete with the BJP in mobilising Hindu communal forces, since it hoped that this would weaken the CPI(M) in the province. And in Delhi, when Congress(I) MPs from Kerala wanted to stage a protest, Sonia Gandhi effectively told them not to do these things in Delhi. In other words, for the Congress High Command it was a tactical matter. In Delhi they had to compete against the BJP. In Delhi they had to negotiate with the CPI(M), and with secular liberal forces. So in Delhi the support to Hindu communalism should not be played up.

Another Congress action we can talk about is the support given to the call for building a Ram Temple by several Congress leaders, such as Harish Rawat, former Uttarakhand Chief Minister, or Kripashankar Singh, former Maharashtra Minister. Obviously, there is a difference between a party that has made the Ram Temple one of its signature campaign themes and a party that uses it as part of a huge set of issues. But these people clearly show that Hindu communalism will not die out if the BJP is ejected from power.

That the Congress is willing to support not just Hindu communalism but even people who kill in the name of religion was on display when they made Kamal Nath, one of the main accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom case, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh after the recent elections there.

So if the arithmetic alone is considered, key political issues are discarded. It is a matter of recognising how far to the right the political terrain as a whole has shifted. Only then can we acknowledge, that while we would oppose the Congress unhesitatingly, many exploited and oppressed people in several provinces may find that they have no option but to vote for the Congress (I). That might well be the choice facing Muslims, Adivasis, Dalits, in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and other provinces and union territories where they do not find significant alternative forces for whom to cast their votes.

We are not in the business of giving political advice to bourgeois parties. However, revolutionaries need to make sober estimates of political situations. The soft Hindutva of the Congress is one of the major impediments to cobbling together a “secular” front against the communal agenda. Just as the deep rightwing economic commitment of the Congress is one of the major impediments to cobbling together a “people’s front” against the economic offensive mounted simultaneously by fascism. So, when we are accused of being politically irrelevant forces who out of a misplaced purism oppose voting for the Congress, we ask, what is the programme for which we are voting? If the actions of the Congress over the past three decades, if the utterances and deeds of Congress leaders over the past five years, are any indication of the things they would do in power, it is clear that:

·        Congress in power would also be hawkish against Pakistan

·        Congress in power would now go for further militarization, with Rahul Gandhi accusing Modi of causing a slowing down of purchasing the Rafale planes

·        Congress would not fight openly against communalist forces on the ground, being content with cosmetic surgery, such as changing a few officials in certain academic and other bodies (UGC, ICHR, VCs of JNU, HCU etc) rather than passing severe anti-communal laws, banning the RSS and VHP under the same laws and for the same reasons which have been used to ban organisations like the SIMI, which have actually been able to inflict far less damage to the fabric of secularism and democracy in India, or taking up thoroughgoing struggles against the Brahminical ideology of the RSS.

·        Congress would continue along the path created by the BJP in centralisation, since the BJP in turn took over many of the weapons forged for previous Congress deeds.

In short, a Congress-led and Congress dominated government may keep BJP out for five years. But first, once the politics of the Congress are clear to the majority of toilers, to Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims, they would hesitate to vote, which itself would make the coming of such a government more difficult. And secondly, such a government (even if it were to last that long) would restore the credibility of the BJP for 2024, since people would see that the economic policies of that government would not benefit them, while the BJP, out of power, would be able to use its forces to on one hand mobilise the oppressor castes on a Brahminical plank, while on the other, mobilising the toilers by pointing to the failure of the Congress. And since the front that the Congress aspires for, is a front that would include most of the opposition parties, its collapse would be the last throw of the dice. The RSS would be able to campaign openly for a full blooded Sangh regime, with majorities in both Houses, opening up real prospects for making decisive changes in the Constitution.

 

C: What about a Federal Front or a Third Front?

In different forms, this is the call that has been going round. This has two shapes, and we need to look at both. One is the very rightwing call for a Federal Front given by West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee. This has of course not materialised in a formal way. What most regional parties know is that their role will be finally determined by how the seatshares that emerge. So they are mostly content with province to province arrangements. But we must be aware that the TMC has been one of the most aggressive right wing parties in India after the BJP.[1]  We have identified it as such a long time back, and that was why, unlike many parties and groups on the far left, who in their so called struggle against “social fascism” supported the TMC in 2009-2011, we have never called for any political support or even any grassroots collaboration with the TMC. It has struck violently against working class struggles, fighting against every all India general strike called by Central Trade Unions since 2011, imposing a terrible “settlement” on tea-garden workers in West Bengal, refusing to pay Dearness Allowance twice a year to government employees and other workers paid by the government, and has waged war against the left forces (both parliamentary left and radical left), including arrests, false cases, deaths due to violence by party goons, deaths due to police action, deaths in prison due to action (or inaction, as when Sudip Chongdar, arrested on the charge of being a CPI Maoist leader, was allowed to die without treatment after he suffered a stroke).

The TMC has also been a partner in earlier NDA blocs, including being in an NDA government. Its current electoral opposition to the BJP stems from bourgeois political compulsions. At present the BJP is a rising force in West Bengal, while the Congress and the Left Front are both seemingly on the backfoot. Consequently it has formally declared its opposition to the BJP. The dubiousness of this opposition can be seen from many developments. Supposedly, TMC goons have repeatedly beaten up Dilip Ghosh, the BJP leader. Yet not once has he even had a few days of hospitalisation. This appears to be a TMC-BJP mutually agreed and staged ‘show’. It enables the TMC to act the role of opponent of the BJP at low cost, and it allows the BJP to also appear to be the real opponent of the TMC. Despite all its failings, in West Bengal, as the 3 February 2019 mobilisation showed, the Left Front is capable of really massive popular mobilisations. At election times, however, massive hooliganism at the grass roots level can have the effect of cutting down the transformation of that support into votes.

That the TMC has no principled secular agenda can also be seen from its use of Bengali chauvinism rather than democratic politics as a mobilising strategy. Its supremo, Ms. Banerjee, has as her declared goal the winning of all 42 seats from West Bengal, hoping this will make her party the strongest in a very fragmented parliament. And if that hope does not work out, she still expects that a lower tally will make the BJP turn to potential allies, possibly dump the Modi-Shah duo for a “secular” and “moderate” face (Gadkari, for example, has already been making the right noises), in which case she can provide her support for or even join a new NDA government in exchange for some of her key demands along with a few token gestures that she can hold up as great victories for secularism.

The second model of the Third Front/Federal Front is one that is more tilted against the BJP. This is a conception that many activists have been hoping to achieve in reality but has little basis in the political calculations of significant electoral formations. This is an Indian version of a rainbow coalition. It is put forward by activists who do not see class struggle as central, but at most as one identity (“class identity”) along with other identities. They believe that a coalition of the BSP, the Dravidian parties, the RJD and the SP, etc would highlight caste, regional and ethnic aspirations and create a more democratic space.

It is true that Dalit-Adivasi-Bahujan oppression is a major point of struggle. But India has seen the performance of the United Front Government too when the Left participated in it but was certainly not in the driver’s seat. Without stronger struggles being generated on the ground, a rainbow coalition will not lead to a rainbow government. Rather, first of all, the sheer numbers show that at least in 2019 such left-of-centre rainbow coalition government is impossible. In several provinces, the Congress is either a partner in such a rainbow, or the Congress is the major opposition to the BJP.

Moreover, such a coalition is unlikely to develop a coherent programme, even for the exploited and oppressed whose votes it is banking on. The refusal of Mayawati to have anything to do with Azad and the Bhim army shows that the BSP is trying to get a constituency under its hegemony rather than fight for Dalit rights. While some intellectuals keep talking about a rainbow, there are no significant gender or class slogans emanating from most of these parties.

D:What Strategy for the Left and Working Class

Conditions in India have worsened in a number of ways. The organised left – parties, unions, other mass organisations, have less striking power than they did thirty years ago. Our benchmark needs to be set at 1989, as a starting point, because that was when the BJP launched its new strategy. Our current has been arguing about that since then. In Parliament that year, the CPI, CPI(M), Forward bloc, Indian Peoples’ Front and Marxist Coordination Committee had 54 seats and had between them polled 10. 49% votes.The organised working class had a bigger striking power.

Indian capitalism had begun its turn to a neoliberal, privatised economy some years earlier, but at a slow pace. 1990-91 saw a drastic shift. A balance of payments crisis was used as the plea to ram through devastating pro-market, pro-rich policies. And the minority government of P.V. Narasimha Rao could do that, constantly holding the left at bay by raising the bogey of the BJP. The left had 58 seats and about the same votes as in the previous parliament. But its persistent policy of lesser evilism, of making a distinction between fighting class battles and fighting fascism, meant that it dealt gently with the Rao government. The result was a further massive growth of the BJP, and its ability to forge alliances with other regional bourgeois parties. In 1996 the BJP won 161 seats, and its allies a further 26. The Congress won 140 seats, a decline of 92 seats and nearly 7.5% votes. The Left Front won 52 seats with just over 9 per cent votes.

What was significant through all these years was the determination with which the parliamentary left clung to its illusions about progressive bourgeois parties. This was revealed in 1996 when the United Front Government was formed. The CPI entered the government, while the CPI(M) and RSP supported it from outside. This government showed absolutely no difference in its economic policies. P. Chidambaram as its Finance Minister presented a budget which Indian big business described as a dream budget. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, one of the principal market advocates of the government, wrote, in a paper for the Planning Commission in 1999:“That a consensus of sorts has evolved is perhaps reflected in the fact that the reforms initiated by the Congress Government in 1991 were continued by the United Front coalition which came to power in 1996 and have also been broadly endorsed by the BJP led government which took office in 1998”.

This popular frontism cost the left heavily in the end. Its last major opportunity had come in 2004. The BJP had gone into the 2004 elections with an arrogant, openly upper class campaign, talking about ‘India Shining’.  The national level perception went against the BJP, as did its local level alliance pacts. The left won 61 seats. But that was followed by the Left Front deciding to give “support from outside” to the Congress led UPA based on a Common Minimum Programme that was hailed as a great step forward. But in fact, the CMP did not do certain things. The CMP did not promise natural justice to the victims of the Gujarat Genocide. In the NDA period Murli Manohar Joshi had ensured the rewriting of text books. When Manmohan Singh, in a rotten balancing act, called for equal rejection of left fundamentalists as well as Hindutva fundamentalists, the left parties did not stand fully with the secular historians and their scholars fighting against the glorification of Savarkar, Hitler and the denigration of the Russian Revolution as a coup in school text books..

Nor is it the case that the left took stronger positions over bread and butter issues. It has been a persistent failure of the left to recognise that the strength of the left, even the non-revolutionary left, is primarily based on extra-parliamentary mobilisations. Despite the left parties not being in power in many provinces, it is the AITUC, CITU etc that have repeatedly mobilised vast numbers of workers in general strikes that have been considered the biggest in the world. But the left parties in the UPA period did not fight all out for the rights of workers and peasants, being satisfied with such sops as the MNREGA, which only offered 100 days of low paid work for one member of each family. Had the left fought resolutely, primarily outside parliament, but also using its MPs in Parliament, for full restoration of the PDS, for universal health care for all, for state funded education and teachers who are state employees, rather than farming it out to NGOs and ill paid workers, they could have both snatched greater gains from the ruling class for the exploited, and made possible a strengthening of their base. After all, the German Social Democratic Party in the period 1890s-1910 won victories, rights for workers, and parliamentary seats, through major trade union mobilisations. The CPI in the period 1951-1962 progressed in much the same way. The experience of being in government has so reoriented the reformist left that it has stopped being able to understand even this. Instead of solidly linking the parliamentary battles to the extra-parliamentary dynamics, the majority of left parties and leaders create separate calendars. They have mobilisations of workers, peasants. But that calendar ends and a separate electoral calendar begins once the elections are announced. As a result, thereafter the class battles are ignored. Absolutely current instances are the struggles of tea garden workers and the elections, or the struggles iof School Service Commission applicants, both in West Bengal. With the BJP putting up John Barla as a candidate, what was absolutely necessary was to fight for tea garden workers’ rights NOW. Similarly, with Mamata Banerjee and the TMC deeply implicated in turning the SSC into a shady racket, there was a need to make the struggle far more visible and to sharpen its focus, instead of leaving it to the handful of protestors.

In addition, the left continues to have a narrow vision of the class struggle that mirrors the politics of the identity politics forces. Where they see class as one among so many identities, the left sees a narrow economism as the class struggle. It does not look at the links between class struggle and caste oppression (and when it tries, it ends up with the failed theory of semi-feudalism). The left reduces gender and sexuality issues to a dogmatic definition of class struggle. As a result, whatever the potentialities, in fact the politics of the left remains a marginalised politics.

Our criticism of the left is based on that. We have an understanding of the class struggle that is potentially unifying. But to be actually capable of unifying the varioius exploited and oppressed masses, there is a need to develop theory and practice together, to struggle for every sector of the oppressed and exploited, and to connect that with the parliamentary struggles. Unless the struggles are linked, unless the left moves out of its eternal search for progressive bourgeois allies and fights together with the oppressed and exploited, there can be no revival of the left even in the parliamentary sphere. And only a stronger left in the parliament can resist the fascists. If we have to rely on chance combinations of bourgeois parties we constantly give ground to the fascists.

The left, whether the reformist or the radical left, needs to understand that the failure to make a Marxist analysis with a proper action programme for caste-gender-sexuality issues leads to either a wooden Marxism of the sectist type that alienates Dalits, Adivasis, women activists, queers, or leads to a post-modernist influenced collapse of the Marxist outlook.

From this perspective, we say that the real United Front in today’s perspective has to be a United Front with mass organisations of workers, peasants, Dalits, Adivasis, mass women’s struggles, queer movement organisations etc. A left alliance should be one that has candidates from such mass movements as well as from left parties, rather than candidates of non-BJP bourgeois parties, as the people we are asked to vote for.

In the concrete situation, our slogans are:

·        Defeat BJP.

·        Defeat all the most right-wing parties regardless of whether regionally they are in alliance with the BJP or not.

·        We understand that in seats where there is an essentially BJP vs Congress stand-off people will feel compelled to vote for the Congress. But we do not see that as the road out of the crisis. The road forward requires treating elections as part of the process of generating mass movements.

·        Hence we call for a vote for Left and progressive candidates.

·        Fascist type forces have never been defeated by bourgeois parties. Other bourgeois parties claiming to fight the BJP are neither anti-neoliberal nor capable of permanently defeating the politics of Hindutva. But they too are now opposing the BJP as they realise that its final victory could be their death knell. The Congress is an ugly rightwing party which cannot be a serious barrier to the progress of Hindutva in the long run but is not a far right fascistic force. Because it cannot be a serious opponent of the politics of neoliberalism or Hindutva  we cannot call for a positive vote for Congress even as we do call for a vote  against  BJP/Sangh as our principal political electoral slogan.

 

The Struggles to Which We are Committed, before, during and after the Elections

FOR A DEMOCRATIC ELECTORAL, ADMINISTRATIVE AND LEGISLATIVE REFORMS

1.      Proportionate peoples representation in parliament, legislative assemblies and local governments, instead of current first-past-the-post system for a true reflection of people’s aspirations.

2.     Thirty three percent reservations for women and people of other sexuality in parliament, legislative assemblies and local governments and gradually raising the same to fifty percent in timebound plan.

3.     Total state funded electoral system free from the evil of money, muscle, bribes and other ill practices, including media practices. EC should be appointed by multi-member constitutional committee.

4.     Legislative change in appointment and removal of top brasses in CBI, CVC, NIA, CAG through parliamentary committee without any extra weightage and advantage to the ruling party/(ies) and constitutional guarantee in their independent function without govt. interference and control.

5.     Non-Parliamentary top executive to be appointed/removed/replaced mandatorily by the legislature through committee of members from ruling and opposition parties without any extra weightage and advantage to the ruling party/(ies).

6.     A legally binding mandatory framework for pre-legislative consultation to ensure participation of the citizens in process of making laws which affects them for.

7.     Restore in the Electoral list the names of  lakhs of Muslim and Dalit voters, who have been eliminated in the last five years.

8.     Scrap the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Bill.

9.     Fix income for both governmental and private sectors at the maximum ration of 1:6. Bring back a progressive income tax up to a highest tier of 80%, restore the property tax and raise the tax on corporate profits.

FOR PRESERVATION AND EXTENSION OF DEMOCRACY

1.      Repeal (completely and unconditionally) the anti democratic laws and sections of laws/acts viz. UAPA, NSA, AFSPA, Article 124(a), 499 of IPC etc and administrative detention.

2.     An effective whistle blower's protection law.

3.     Legislative enactment of accessible, decentralized citizen’s grievance redressal mechanism to provide time bound redressal of citizen’s grievances with provisions for auditability & accountability and compensations.

4.     Constitutional guarantee of fund, functionaries and authorities for the local self-governments without discrimination for democratic and effective governance, as per the spirit of 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment with mandatory provisions for highest authority of the Gram/Ward Sansad in decision making, overseeing and action taking.

5.     Legal framework for punishable offence with respect to assault upon individual or groups reflecting diverse culture and identity, like food habits, religious practices, caste hierarchy, gender differences etc, mostly minority and weaker stratum and protection of victim(s) with compensations.

6.     Independent statutory body with quasi-judicial power to oversee and protect political and social opposition to the government and the state with right to protest, organise events without discrimination with equal opportunity as the ruling party.

7.     Any aggression or offence by the ruling party or administration, formal or informal with the patronage of the government should be dealt with proper and quick response actions by independent statutory body empowered for the same.

BASIC OF RIGHTS

1.      Constitutional guarantee of ‘Right to Work’ for living to all adult people, with compulsory unemployment wage equivalent to minimum wage, upto the age of sixty.

2.     Universal ‘Right to Pension’ at the age of 60, equivalent to last drawn wage.

3.     Declaration of national floor level minimum wage in consultation with trade unions, nutritionists, social activists with bi-annual upward auto-revision enabling based on CPI; irrespective of nature of work and employment. Mandatory revision of minimum wage with legal obligation after every five years.

4.     ‘Right to Food’ act for universal (nutrition and health compliant) subsidised PDS.

5.     Universal basic health and healthcare system by easy accessibility of safe drinking water, nutrition, housing, end-to-end free medical services with ensured quality and availability at all levels..

6.     Every school must be complaint of RTE. Every childhood education and care should be integral part of it. ITI must be increased in huge numbers followed by setting National Village Education Fund to support Government to improve quality of education in rural areas. Provide residential facilities for under privileged at least up to college level. No communalisation of education system.

7.     Strict implementation of existing labour laws including accountability and actionable provisions upon violation, with progressive reforms over time in favour for employees to minimise the difference in power and authority between employer and employee.

8.     Statutory assurance of remunerative prices as per Swaminathan Committee's recommendation for the peasants and their land distribution support for farmer's collective, sustainable/ecological agriculture promoting and ·full implementation of land acquisition Act, 2013.

9.     Recognition of local communities specially forest dwellers as custodians and share holders of local eco-system and natural resources of that area and legally empower the relevant local assemblies to govern the system while the forest department should be restructured to assist them. An independent and empowered environment commission should be set up to judge environmental standards and make regulations and ensure compliance.

MEDIA, JUDICIARY AND JUSTICE FOR VULNERABLE SECTIONS

1.      An independent institutional framework for accountability of the media and licensing power free from government control and independence of public service broadcasters.

2.     An accessible and accountable judiciary which can deliver justice for all. A full time body independent of government and judiciary which can examine is highly needed to make judiciary accountable and implementable..

3.     Establish an Equal Rights Commission through a law that all can easily understand and that covers all aspects of social inequality. Ensure through this the structural inequalities and the injustices that are faced by helpless social groups. Thereby ensure proper solutions. Reservation in public and private sectors for jobs and education only for the socially oppressed and repressed groups of peoples.

4.     Recognise the rights of all marginal sexualities as equals by creating law respecting self-identification by transgenders.

ENVIRONMENT, FOREIGN POLICIES ETC

1.      All natural wealth must be controlled neither by the government nor by corporate sectors. They must belong to the people. The direct producers must have rights over land.

2.     Maintaining the ecological balance in utilising natural wealth must be given proper weightage. Scrap all industries that destroy the environment.

3.     India must tread the path of friendly and fraternal relations among the peoples of South and South East Asia and West Asia, in order to achieve general development of the peoples of these regions, rather than developing conflict-based relationships. Halt war madness, reduce military expenditures. Stop the use of nuclear weapons and nuclear power.

 

 


 

 

Subcategories